“The Boss” is pitifully lacking in self-awareness. It’s a film that wants to live in Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s universe, where there are real-life news anchor gang wars that end in people losing limbs. To be fair, it’s easy to see why they thought the audience might view the films the same way. “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” both feature pompous shells of a human being who are humbled on a grand scale, much like Melissa McCarthy’s character here, but that is where the similarities end. What “The Boss” gets wrong is the meanness factor. Will Ferrell’s characters in the aforementioned films are dim and shallow, but harmless, while McCarthy’s character is an unrepentant, hostile sociopath from birth. Worse, the film treats this as a virtue.
Michelle Darnelle (McCarthy) is, by the audience’s viewpoint, a thrice-abandoned orphan who grows up to become a ruthless, filthy-rich business executive. Renault (Peter Dinklage), a former lover-turned rival, gets her indicted on insider trading, whereupon she is sent to prison and loses everything. Upon her release, she arrives at the door of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) because she has nowhere else to go. Claire resents the way Michelle treated her, but because she’s a decent human being, Claire allows Michelle to stay, and as Michelle ingratiates herself in Claire’s life, she sees a business opportunity when she attends a Daffodils meeting with Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and they discuss cookie sales. Shortly afterward, Michelle tastes one of Claire’s family recipe brownies. Darnelle’s Darlings is born, the brownies are their cash cow, and Michelle is back in the game.