Michelle Darnell didn’t become America’s 47th richest woman by sitting back and eating bonbons. That came later.
No, to get rich, she had to have vision. She had to work hard. And most of all, she had to be incredibly ruthless and devious. Any bonbons in her possession during her rapid rise to the top would’ve likely been poison-laced gifts to her competitors, or tiny missiles used to pelt her underlings. Any lonely snacks left over she’d put to work analyzing stocks. That’s right, people: Michelle Darnell doesn’t tolerate slackers, not even in her bite-sized sweets.
And, tellingly, now many of Michelle’s acquaintances would definitely like the turtlenecked tycoon to get her just desserts.
You don’t get to the top without making enemies, and it seems like Michelle’s made nothing but. So when she’s busted for insider trading, even people she thought were friends melt away like lowly Hershey’s Kisses on a Las Vegas sidewalk. When she’s released from prison five months later, Michelle discovers that her businesses have been bought by her former beau and bitter rival, Renault. Her homes have been forced into foreclosure. Her cars have been repossessed. Most of her “loyal” employees have moved on to more secure, much more rewarding work.
Michelle can only turn to one person in this time of need: Claire, her former personal assistant. Dutifully—and after a bit of prodding by Claire’s kindly young daughter, Rachel—Claire opens her apartment to her former boss, allowing her to stay until Michelle’s able to pull herself up by her Jimmy Choo shoe straps.
Alas, Michelle lost all her Choos, too, so it takes a while to figure out how she’s going to start a new climb to the top. It’s not until Claire cooks a batch of delicious brownies, and Michelle attends one of Rachel’s Dandelion meetings (think Girl Scouts, complete with cookies), that a vision of the Next Big Thing starts to take shape.
Forget the Dandelions! Forget all their nice, traditional values and devotion to charity work! The Dandelions’ wildly popular cookies are the only things that matter, and Michelle decides to create a new girls’ organization—Darnell’s Darlings—based solely on the sale and distribution of brownies! Yessir, it’s time that girls stopped getting badges for caring for the elderly or building mud huts in third-world hamlets! They should be trained to sell, sell, SELL! Why, the girls can even keep some of the money they earn—say, 10%. Or, on second thought, 5%.
Michelle didn’t have time for bonbons her first trip to the top. But this time, brownies will share the front seat with her. In fact, they’ll be sitting right there in Claire’s lap, because this time around, Michelle’s bringing along a partner.
As long as the partner doesn’t get in the way, that is. What was her name again?
Poor, poor Rachel. What a dysfunctional story for a sweet, well-meaning little girl to find herself in. When her mother is leery of letting Michelle crash at their all-too-small apartment, Rachel insists they can’t just abandon the woman. And as the brownie business gets going, Rachel gives Michelle a picture of the three of them—Michelle, Claire and Rachel, stirring up brownie batter. If the movie has a conscience—and it definitely needs one—Rachel is it.
Claire tries to follow her daughter’s good example, and she works hard to be a good mom. She clearly wants the best for her little girl, and she spends all the time she can with her, in spite of her often odious job in a cubicle farm. (Claire, is that you across the wall?) And, naturally, Michelle isn’t always the ogre she seems. She was conditioned at an early age to never get too close to anyone, and so this whole “family” thing is a bit of a frightening mystery to her. But eventually she discovers that life is more than fame, power and plump Swiss bank accounts.
Michelle was an orphan, partly raised in a Catholic-run institution called the Blessed Sisters of Mercy—to which she’s returned from foster/adoption situations quite frequently.
“What’s the matter with me?” Michelle asks a nun after she’s brought back for yet another refund. “Not a thing,” the nun tells her, adding with a heavy sigh, “God’s children are all perfect in their own way.”
There’s talk of a phoenix being Michelle’s “totem animal.” Also of Quetzalcoatl, a Mesoamerican god often depicted as a feathered serpent. Someone’s zodiac sign is mentioned.
Michelle and Renault were an item a few decades ago, back when Renault was more modestly known as Ronald. With a bit of violence mixed in for no good reason, we see them make out. And when they fight, sexual passions always seem to rise.
Michelle talks about the “hundreds” of men she’s been with. While breaking into an office building, she repeatedly suggests to Claire’s boyfriend, Mike, that he should perform oral sex on the male security guard (and we see a vision of what she imagines such an act would look like). Mike resists, but later volunteers to perform oral sex on another man in a moment of peril.
Breasts and vaginas dominate several stretches of dialogue, and Rachel shows up just in time for Michelle to bend over and show both of them her exposed backside. There’s talk of seeing, touching and sniffing genitals. Ronald grabs Michelle’s (clothed) breast. Michelle and Claire touch and adjust their own and each other’s breasts.
Michelle speculates about how many of the Dandelion girls will dabble in lesbianism, predicting that one will adopt it as a permanent lifestyle. She talks about designing an offensive Dandelion badge featuring oral sex, and she jokes with prison guards about lesbianism. Gay innuendo is woven into a scene or two. And various sex acts—including group sex—are described in detail. Michelle orders her helicopter pilot to strip off his shirt for her. She dances with a rapper in a suggestive fashion.
After Michelle poaches some of the Dandelion girls, luring them into Darnell’s Darlings, the two factions meet on the street and have the equivalent of a gang rumble. Girls and women viciously punch, kick, clothesline, beat, bash and jump on each other. Hair is pulled out. Cookies are stuffed down pants.
Two people engage in a sword fight. A fold-out bed launches people into walls and through windows. A couple of characters fall from a high building. Others tumble down stairs. We hear about someone’s shattered pelvis.
Michelle and Rachel watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre together (Rachel hiding under the blankets). We see a bloody scene from that movie, and Michelle gives the terrified Rachel a play-by-play.
“Language!” both Claire and Rachel shout at Michelle. Alas, we still hear about 25 f-words and nearly 20 s-words. There are frequent interjections of “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—” and crude words for various body parts (especially “d–k”). Three birds are flipped. God’s name is abused in conjunction with “d–n” a couple of times, and Jesus’ name is misused once or twice.
Many of these profanities are used by children—including Rachel—suggesting that Michelle’s influence has been more pervasive than simply instilling an aggressive business acumen.
Ronald and Michelle snort cocaine. A gaggle of Darnell’s Darlings show up at a medical marijuana shop in the hopes of selling a bongload of brownies. Michelle spikes Rachel’s coffee with brandy by mistake. She talks about drinking Scotch and getting boozy. There’s also wine and champagne in the mix.
The Peter Principle suggests that employees are typically promoted to one level above their actual competency. And it not only explains some bosses in real life, but this Boss, too: In truth, the movie should never have been promoted to production.
This isn’t just an underperforming movie; it’s bound and determined to create a toxic work environment. And despite its talented cast (Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell at the forefront), it did not make me laugh—or even smile—once.
Perhaps there are those out there who find kids shouting curse words more hilarious than I. Perhaps there are those who love to watch Ms. McCarthy knock out Girl Scout lookalikes. Perhaps there is some soul out there who can tell me just what makes Michelle Darnell sympathetic enough to root for in this carnally capitalistic redemption story—even though she’s just as selfish, just as repellent after she gets out of jail as when she goes in—until the very, very end.
The Boss is not the foulest of Melissa McCarthy R-rated comedies: That’s a hard bar to clear, after all. But in every other respect—its quality, its message—it’s the worst I’ve seen. If I was giving this Boss a performance review (and, I guess, technically I am), every “needs improvement” box on the sheet would be marked. Letter of reference? Ha! What The Boss really deserves is a pink slip.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.