If I weren’t already in possession of the knowledge that Ben Falcone has been Melissa McCarthy’s husband for more than a decade and is the father of her two children, I would wonder whether he is actively attempting to sabotage her career. McCarthy, since her breakthrough in Bridesmaids, has become one of our most reliably entertaining comedic voices, from The Heat to Spy to the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. McCarthy’s comedic sweet spot is a mix of aggression and compassion, a person who won’t stop smacking you, but only because she’s trying to knock some sense into you. There’s an inherent goodness to McCarthy, and an inherent grace: At her best, as in Spy, she convinces you of both her virtue and her competence. She’s smarter and wiser than you, just in a far different package than you’re used to. You want to cheer for her.
Which is why it’s baffling that Falcone—and, by extension, McCarthy—seems to fundamentally misunderstand her appeal. Falcone has directed his wife twice now, first in 2014’s Tammy and now in this week’s The Boss, and for reasons I wouldn’t dare attempt to psychologically analyze, he uses her in the worst possible way. (It is worth noting that McCarthy co-wrote both films with Falcone, who is also an actor; you might remember him as the very funny air marshal in Bridesmaids.) In both films, she is loud and grating and crass and nearly unbearable. She sucks the air out of every scene she’s in simply by walking into the room; there are other funny people in this movie (Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kristen Schall, Timothy Simons, Tyler Labine), and they mostly stand a few feet away from her, twiddling their thumbs while she bounces obnoxiously around the room. Now, these are hard things for me to say: I am an unabashed fan of McCarthy’s. And even in her best roles, she has often been the loudest, wildest bull bucking around every scene. But there is always a purpose to her madness, a channel for her aggression. Here, she flails away. And this only happens in her husband’s movies. What is going on here?
The premise of The Boss is barely established enough to even bother. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an Oprah/Paula Deen type who is so popular as a motivational speaker and entrepreneur—even though the movie isn’t even curious enough to tell us what products she sold—that she fills Chicago’s United Center and raps (poorly) alongside T-Pain. That’s until she is entrapped by a former colleague and lover (Dinklage) into an insider trading scheme and is taken to jail; in an alternative universe, there’s a far funnier movie where McCarthy’s billionaire is forced to Madoff her way through a tough women’s prison. Instead, she’s released and moves in with her former assistant (Bell) and the assistant’s precocious daughter. She ends up taking over the daughter’s Girl Scout troop and cursing a lot. All of this is mostly a series of empty excuses for McCarthy to stomp and charge around and call suburban moms the c-word. Your tolerance for this may vary.
At her best, McCarthy is able to subvert the niceties of polite society to reach some sort of deeper truth. The reason her Bridesmaids character is so funny and likable is because she keeps pulling Kristen Wiig out of her self-indulgent skinny-white-girl doldrums. In Spy, she’s so much more competent than everyone else that you want her to strangle everybody who has been overlooking her for so long. Here, though, like in Tammy, it’s she who is the problem. Everyone else is comparatively normal, just trying to be regular people, and she keeps pounding down the door and putting everyone in headlocks. It’s not just off-putting, it’s actively irritating. Falcone and McCarthy have surely seen her underused and under-appreciated in the business pre-Bridesmaids, but they have overcorrected: By making her the center of every scene without giving her an actual character to play, they require her to carry more weight that anyone possibly could. This is like one of those old Bob Hope comedies where there’s no real plot and the only thing that moves the film along would be Hope cracking wise. Here, it’s McCarthy throwing things around and punching people. It’s a bit much. It’s a lot much.
This is a little better than Tammy, if just because of one surrealist scene involving a street fight that’s so weird and out of nowhere that you wish the whole movie had just gone in that direction. But the movie’s comic tone is so uneven, so desperate, that what started out as a “business guide to young girls” comedy turns into McCarthy and Dinklage having a sword fight to the death. (Don’t ask.) This movie needs someone in the director’s chair who understands the basic pacing and motivations of film comedy, and it simply does not have one. Falcone is 0-for-2 now, two huge swings and misses. I appreciate that working with Falcone allows McCarthy to have her work life and home life intermingled, and far be it from me or anyone else to try to deprive her of that. But either she needs to stop letting her husband direct her movies, or she needs to marry Paul Feig.
Looking for more movie recommendations? Check out the latest episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast.