Michelle Darnell is like an unholy cross between Martha Stewart, Donald Trump and the women from “Absolutely Fabulous.”
She’s crude, ruthless, fashionable, business savvy and kind of a train wreck. She’s also one of the best comedic characters to hit the big screen in years.
She’s been in development long enough: Melissa McCarthy came up with Michelle during her pre-fame days with the Groundlings improv troupe. With “The Boss,” McCarthy and her writer-director husband, Ben Falcone, give Michelle the larger-than-life platform she deserves.
Abandoned and neglected as a child, Michelle has made it her life’s mission to get to the top and stay there, no matter what. Now a hugely successful businesswoman, she stages elaborate motivational rallies and depends too much on her overworked assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell). When her win-at-all-costs mentality gets her arrested for insider trading, Michelle loses everything, and ends up needing Claire more than ever — especially when Claire’s daughter (Ella Anderson) turns her on to the earning potential of kids selling baked goods.
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There’s no question that “The Boss” is McCarthy’s show, and her ability to be lovable while playing a foul-mouthed narcissist is a wonder to behold. She even finds some emotional depth, letting Michelle’s brittle shell crack just enough to show the fear underneath. It is, as Claire helpfully points out, a cliche to motivate a character this way, making her push away friends because she can’t stand to be vulnerable. At least the script acknowledges this, and McCarthy is talented enough to pull it off anyway.
It’s not the movie’s only bit of laziness. Comedians with improv backgrounds are notorious for dragging out gags unnecessarily. “The Boss” is more focused than some of McCarthy’s other efforts, but no one involved knows quite when to stop.
When it doesn’t overindulge, “The Boss” makes terrific use of all its actors, especially Peter Dinklage as Michelle’s ex-turned-rival, and Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live” as Claire’s awkwardly terrible new employer. Bell has a sharp, no-nonsense energy that balances out McCarthy’s outrageousness, leading to priceless scenes like Michelle’s attempt to prepare Claire for a date.
McCarthy is a first-rate comic actress, and “The Boss” lets her show off everything from her pratfalling skills to a fairly stunning talent for rap (she holds her own alongside T-Pain). She carries “The Boss” easily but seems happy to share the screen with scene-stealing co-stars. That shows a confidence and generosity that Michelle Darnell could only dream of.
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
Rated R. Time: 1:39.