To be Woman and Boss

 

Five-dollar movie Tuesday led me to my local movie theater, as it has on many other occasions. I invited my boyfriend to tag along to The Boss because I love a good Melissa McCarthy comedy. The movie, directed by Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s husband), follows the life of Michelle Darnell, business mogul, who is soon sent to prison for insider “white collar” trading. After she spends her few months behind bars, she winds up crashing on her prior assistant’s couch. Her narcissistic and materialistic needs are soon unleashed again, and so ensues a business called “Darnell’s Darlings.” The rest of this R rated comedy is about the business she creates and how she decides to pursue it. The overall comedy genre uses typical conventions like slapstick humor, an accident-prone main character, and comical features and appearances. The film title and brief description may seem to make The Boss out to be a positive representation for women, but I disagree. From a feminist perspective, I believe The Boss reinforces the “bitchy boss” female stereotype in a patriarchal society.

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At first glance, the boss in The Boss, Michelle Darnell, is over-the-top to say the least. She has a fiery red, something-short-of-a-mullet hairdo, with a shocking full face of makeup. As if that isn’t enough, she lives in turtlenecks and heels and if she is really feeling dramatic, throws a bow on top of her turtlenecked neck (could it be any more covered?). While it is not scantily clad, Michelle’s outer appearance preconceives the bitchy attitude and personality of her character. “The body is presented simultaneously as a woman’s source of power, and as always unruly, requiring constant monitoring… in order to conform to ever-narrower judgments of female attractiveness (Gill 149). I believe a woman should dress however she feels most confident, but this movie seems to perpetuate the notion that making yourself look “beautiful,” or what society deems to be beautiful, is the only way a woman can become successful, or more equal to the power in which a man holds. And because she always looks expensive and extremely put together, she almost has to be rude and overbearing, because there are no cinematic representations of wealthy women that look good and are just plain nice. “Today, a sleek, toned, controlled figure is normatively essential for portraying success” (Gill 149).

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Michelle’s looks are not the only way to understand her feistiness. Her colorful language and crude, humorous advice could also give some of that away. While she seems to be honest, her hostility, backstabbing nature, and serious threats also reaffirm her bossy stereotype. In the middle of the movie, she tries to steal the cookie market share of the Dandelions (think Girl Scouts) for her Brownie selling Darnell’s Darlings. She creates this brownie business in hopes of recapturing her entrepreneurial status and gaining back her wealth. The Darnell’s Darlings program gives 10% commission to the girls that sell the brownies, while also setting them up with a percentage that goes into a college fund. While this seems like a great, empowering idea, the way in which they seek the money also reinforces the “bitchy boss” stereotype. Michelle gathers girls to join her group by going to a Dandelions meeting and pitching her idea. After parting ways, she creates a drift between one of the bitchy suburban moms. Later on, there is a scene where the Dandelions and the Darlings meet in the same neighborhood to sell their desserts and instead of racing to see who can make the most money first, there is a full-on brawl between sides from both the bitchy, suburbanite moms and their young greedy girls. This scene involves assault, shoving cookies down pants, and pyrotechnics. In the end, Michelle’s attitudinal problems and mistakes all root from the very beginning. It stems from her lack of a family and fear of commitment, which is very typical for the conventions of the genre. The problem lies in the facts that the audience is meant to decipher the line between children/women being bullies to and beating each other, and what it means to be “a boss.” While the audience also thinks that all of these things are meant to be funny.

Almost all of the lead roles in this movie are women, and well-known women, like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell. While they are all women (woohoo for female representation!), they are all well-known, white women. There are only a few women, or men for that matter, of color in this movie and they play largely stereotypical roles with no character development such as, the driver, journalist, and prison guards. “Black women are seen as a particular threat to the purity of the white family, and their absence or lowly status in the film is used to accentuate the privileged status of the white woman” (Hollinger 201). As you can see, this movie is very whitewashed, and it only helps reinforce Michelle’s stereotype of a “bitchy boss.” Although there are queer references in the movie, they are almost always used to make fun of another character, or to make another character feel uncomfortable.

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I had the pleasure of watching this film at the Northwoods Cinema 10, in Owatonna, MN. It is placed in a middle-income section of the city. As the name suggests, there are ten screens in the theater and the building is in very good condition. The ticket prices have fluctuated throughout the time this theater has existed and as owners have come and gone, but overall they have tried to stay true with the economy in the area. A normal showing of this movie would cost $8.50, but because I went on a $5 Tuesday, which is a big hit here, it was a steal. Normally there is no encouragement to buy food, besides the discouragement to bring any food into the theater, but on Tuesdays, you can get free popcorn with a purchase of any size drink. We did not buy anything, which does not go against our norm.

In the end, I did not react any differently than I would have if I had watched this film in my home. The audience, of mostly young women, did nothing surprising and I was not shocked by this. Many of Melissa McCarthy’s movies have a pattern, or a theme if you will, so most of the time you know what to expect. The Boss did not break her comedy genre and character norm. Not only was I not shocked by the movie, but I also was not shocked by the character’s bitchy role. I feel like that stereotype, like many others, will never die, which is probably why it is a stereotype, right? Although some of the representations were poor ones, I am still a diehard fan of the leading lady and Kristen Bell. It may have not been the next Bridesmaids, but I had many good laughs and would enjoy watching this movie again.

 

Works Cited

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture:Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.2 (2007): 147-66. Web.
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Hollinger, Karen. “Feminist Film Studies and Race.” Feminist Film Studies (2012): 190-204. Web.
imdb.com
youtube.com
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