Women can be comedic pranksters too: “The Boss”

Since 2011’s blockbuster hit Bridesmaids, a different kind of motion picture has appeared, a category which could roughly be labeled as “women behaving badly.” The concept is that female equality means women being able to break taboos and act as boorishly as their onscreen male counterparts when it comes to intimate matters, such as drinking, drug taking, bathroom humor, binge eating, bodily functions, cursing and the like – above all, in all things sexual. Sorta like Dumb and Dumber, with female body parts.

But is being screwed, blued and tattooed and behaving as crude and lewd as the dudes really a sign of women’s liberation? Is this screen development truly a genre of gender parity?

The notion that “feminism” equals vulgarity because now the gals can throw off all civilized restraints and manners like, say, those Hangover guys, is analogous to the deluded concept that allowing American women to serve in combat is some sort of step forward for the female of the species. There is nothing positive or progressive about permitting females to serve in the U.S. military in order to invade countries that have not attacked us.

Melissa McCarthy is among the leaders of this so-called “Grrrrrl Power” pack – think John Belushi with breasts. She rose from the Mike & Molly sitcom that first went on the air in 2010 to co-star in Bridesmaids and appeared in the third (and prayerfully last) pic of the Hangover franchise. McCarthy has gone on to have the lead role in flicks such as 2013’s wildly unfunny Identity Thief. Her chief shtick has been the idea that it’s high-larious for obese ladies to have mindless, promiscuous sex – you know, the same way the cats do in, say, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson comedies.

Now, Melissa McCarthy is back, starring in The Boss with a cast mostly derived from television, ranging from Saturday Night Live to cable series. The Boss is directed and co-written by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband, who also helmed her 2014 Tammy and has acted in flicks such as Bridesmaids, as well as in The Boss. The movie opens by quickly and cleverly establishing, with the help of a series of well known rock songs, McCarthy’s character Michelle Darnell’s back story.

As the movie’s title suggests, Michelle is one of the richest women in America, who built her fortune as one of those wildly overhyped “self-help” huckstering, blustery gurus who peddles extremist entrepreneurialism as the path to self-empowerment, for men and women. She is a sort of Elmer Gantry-like proselytizer of cutthroat capitalism, but unfortunately, the movie does not really develop this storyline and quickly takes a detour in another direction. (Pity, especially since one of those self-promoting hustlers is currently running for president.)

Indeed, like much of its cast, The Boss is very TV-ish, a pastiche of skits and various genres, ranging from martial arts to heist flicks to buddy pics. Having said that, this movie mishmash frequently made this reviewer laugh out loud. Yes, it is very vulgar and has lots of coarse language, especially about sex. There is a hysterical scene about bras between Michelle and Claire (Kristen Bell of the awful Showtime series about Wall Street pigs, House of Lies). And although there is no graphic sex per se or nudity, The Boss actually has some pretty violent scenes. But it is also often funny, especially for those who enjoy coarse humor and slapstick.

Without revealing plot spoilers, Michelle and Claire team up to form a capitalistic, for-profit version of the Brownies that interestingly co-opts lots of leftwing imagery. Claire actually specifically makes this point onscreen, although the fact that “Darnell’s Darlings'” berets and clenched fists suggest the Black Panthers curiously goes unmentioned. (Perhaps after the controversy over Beyoncé‘s Free Huey halftime hijinks at the Super Bowl the filmmakers decided to skip referencing that African American revolutionary organization.)

This uncouth comedy’s cast – largely, like its larger than life star, recruited from the boob tube – includes: MADtv’s Michael McDonald; SNL’s Cecily Strong; and Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage. Interestingly, although he has a very comic part, amidst all of The Boss’ nonstop crudity, Dinklage’s diminutive stature is never referenced, which is really to the credit of this no-holds-barred, take- no-prisoners raucous ruckus.  The excellent Kathy Bates – who won a Best Actress academy Award for her terrifying turn in 1990’s Misery and was Oscar-nommed for two subsequent films and has also scored Golden Globes and Emmy awards and nominations – has a “hiyo silver and away!” cameo amidst the merry mayhem.

Despite its outlandish tastelessness, beneath the surface The Boss has a sweetness and makes some serious points about the importance of the bonds of family, friendship and love. Does the movie have a feminist message? While it is a dubious proposition that free enterprise will liberate what Simone de Beauvoir dubbed “the Second Sex,” The Boss does assert that women should be their own bosses and co-equals – in and out of business. By the end of the film Michelle’s dog-eat-dog capitalist ethos has been tempered and cooperating, instead of competing and sharing the wealth become the key to success in life’s endeavors.

While some may find the laughs to be loutish and louche, overall this critic enjoyed the frequently uproarious, sometimes hilarious The Boss. But for those who are easily offended, it’s “viewer beware,” as these gals are behaving very badly indeed. But ticket buyers had better get used to this. Because with outré stars such as Amy Schumer, Rebel Wilson, Kristen Wiig and above all, Melissa, a new McCarthy era has descended upon the screen image of women.

L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (see: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/). His interview with America’s former Poet Laureate is in the new book “Conversations With W.S. Merwin.”  


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.