Mano a Mano with The Boss

Let me begin by saying I have a love-hate relationship with Melissa McCarthy’s films (adored Spy, hated Tammy and Identity Thief) and the trailer for The Boss…didn’t wow me. But the trailer for Spy also didn’t wow me, and I would’ve skipped it if a friend who got to see it early hadn’t gushed about it, so I was willing to give this new film a shot, despite the terrible Rotten Tomatoes score.

Quick synopsis: The Boss is about a businesswoman named Michelle who gets caught profiting off some insider trading, goes to white-collar prison, has zero friends when she gets out, and starts a new business empire with the help of her plucky sidekick former personal assistant Claire.

Things I didn’t know before going into the film that I learned from the credits or looking it up later: The Boss is directed and written by Melissa McCarthy’s husband and fellow actor, Ben Falcone, and his only other directing credit is Tammy. Melissa McCarthy was also on the writing team for this film, and her only other writing credit is (can you guess?) Tammy. Overall, The Boss is definitely supposed to be a comedy, but it also seems to veer wildly into the more emotional territory, and I’m going to argue that this film would be more accurately labeled as a romantic comedy in the “chick flick” style than a true comedy.

So let me set the scene for you: it’s a Wednesday night, I need my movie fix, and I have just enough time to make it to the nearest AMC in Roseville before the last showing of the night starts. It’s not my usual AMC (that would be the one twenty minutes away in Inver Grove Heights, with the reclining chairs, reserved seating, and, as of December, an in-house bar), but it’s all that’s available at 10PM on a weeknight.

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The tickets are pricey at nearly $12 (pricier than the IGH AMC, another reason it’s worth the drive), and I remember why I do my solo movie vacations during matinees instead of leaving it this late. I have the rewards card for this particular chain, though, and the ticket price gets me an extra $10 that I immediately spend on a pretzel and pop (another $12). Now, I used to sneak snacks in, but I know that the majority of a theater’s profit comes from concessions sales and when I can afford it, I try to support the industry. Maybe I’m delusional. Just let me enjoy the warm fuzzies, yeah?

One great thing about going to the movies late on a weeknight: no crowds! Empty parking lot, empty theaters. My only fellow audience members were a small group of teenagers, not being obnoxious, and laughing at all the right moments. They probably thought I was a weirdo, sitting in an empty theater before they came in. I’ve hit up enough movies solo by now to not care if that’s what people are thinking. For me, the cinema experience is meditative, and not something my family could afford to do very often when I was growing up. It’s making up for lost time.

Plus, it means I actually watch the movie, even during the boring parts, instead of picking up my phone every two minutes like I do if I’m watching at home.

Now, my thoughts on the actual film!

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Did this film have problems? Heck yes, it did. After showing us how terrible Michelle’s childhood as an unwanted orphan was, we cut to Michelle as the powerful business mogul (think female version of Trump) dancing on a stage and we’re already in trouble. Michelle is the sole white person on stage, surrounded by gyrating black female bodies. Their “lowly status in [the] film is used to accentuate the privileged status of the White woman” (Hollinger 201). In hot pants and midriff tops next to Michelle’s signature high turtleneck, these dancers are “portrayed as highly sexualized, associated with reproduction, and branded as subordinate” (Hollinger 201). In the following scenes, we are introduced to Tito, the only black character with a speaking role, who was probably meant to sound like a hype-man but comes across as dim-witted and overly agreeable. He’s out the door the second Michelle gets arrested and never shows up again, upholding the stereotype of black men as disloyal and self-serving (especially since it’s the poor mistreated white girl who reluctantly helps Michelle later).

For a film that features two lead female characters, both women are critical of each other’s physical appearance as social currency. Rosalind Gill describes a moment in the series What Not to Wear where the hosts criticize one woman’s body and wardrobe (“very saggy boobs,” “that jumper looks like something her granny crocheted”) that mirrors Michelle’s sweater and bra criticisms as Claire gets ready for a date (150). After her daughter agrees, Claire changes into a borderline professional blazer and top. Her date, though, shows up in a plaid shirt and a clashing cardigan that would’ve matched Claire’s first choice more closely.

The closer the film gets to its conclusion, the more it seems to abandon the pretense of comedy and embrace its true identity as a romantic comedy, as Michelle accepts Claire and her daughter as family, moves them into an extremely suburban colonial, and encourages Claire into a romantic relationship with the earlier unfashionable date. Despite her own aversion to any romantic relationships that aren’t about manipulating each other, Michelle becomes the uncouth champion of sexual and gender mores as she tells a rival’s daughter that she looks like a man, will definitely become a lesbian, and that her mom is uptight because she should’ve been a lesbian. Perhaps unconsciously, the character of Michelle transforms into a “better person” by maintaining a status quo of white-straight-cisgender, and anyone who violates the status quo becomes the victim of humiliation and even physical punishment (the rival is thrown through a window by a malfunctioning sofa bed courtesy of Michelle).

Would I recommend The Boss? Probably not, unless you’re really bored and the only other option is Batman vs. Superman. I appreciate Melissa McCarthy as an actress, but if The Boss and Tammy are what the McCarthy/Falcone team-up comes up with when they get behind the camera instead of in front of it, they might just need to stick to acting.

References:

Hollinger, Karen. “Feminist Film Studies and Race.” Feminist Film Studies, 2012.

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist media culture: Elements of a sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 2007.

IMDB: The Boss (2016)

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