Melissa McCarthy is quickly becoming the next Adam Sandler

In a movie full of sight gags, one of the worst wigs in cinematic history is apparently meant to be taken seriously. Photos courtesy Universal Pictures.

Find a religious text, put your hand on it and read this out loud:

“Melissa McCarthy isn’t funny. She never was funny. Unless her films undergo dramatic changes, she never will be funny.

“I will never pay money to see one of her movies again.

“If I am exposed, by happenstance, to one of her movies, I will not laugh at the scenes centering around her bodily functions, nor will I laugh at the scenes that center on excessive profanity, nor will I laugh at the scenes in which she uses her sexuality as a grossout gag. None of these are actual jokes, and none of them are funny. I wouldn’t laugh at a person on the street doing any of these things, so I will not laugh when McCarthy does it.

“I remain open to laughing at her movies if they ever have a scene with actual humor, but I recognize that this is exceedingly unlikely.”

In her new movie The Boss, which she writes and produces, she stars as Michelle Darnell, a chronically rejected orphan turned billionaire self-help mogul — I guess, it’s not ever explained how she got so rich. Rival and former romantic interest Renault (Peter Dinklage) has Darnell convicted for insider trading and assimilates all of her assets, leaving her penniless when she gets out five months later. Darnell is forced to live with her old assistant, single mother Claire Rawlins (Kristen Bell). However, upon discovering Rawlins’ family brownie recipe and the potential of door-to-door pastry sales through the girl scout troupe her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) attends, Darnell sees her way back to the top.

This approach to comedy, seeking to unnerve people into laughing rather than actually being funny, recalls the modern horror movie approach of trying to make people jump instead of actually being scary. It may look good on the surface because people are doing the thing you want them to do, but this approach will never produce a movie that really lasts because it’ll never produce a movie that’s really funny.

McCarthy has been a mainstream comic actor for five years now, and her shtick hasn’t changed. Her movies primarily rely on grossout humor and lazily shot improv that quickly devolves into grossout humor itself in most cases. These movies aren’t funny, and they aren’t trying to be — a lot of people laugh when they’re uncomfortable, and that’s what these movies aim for. It quickly comes down to a question of maturity. If you understand and are at peace with the fact that everyone poops, everyone pukes and everyone porks, you’re not going to find any of it funny. You won’t even understand why everyone around you is laughing, and confusion at that will be the primary emotion The Boss elicits.

Perhaps the most baffling thing about McCarthy’s success is her movies’ distinct similarity to comic icon Adam Sandler, who’s recent films are recognized as some of the worst ever made. He’s been pegged for several patterns in these recent films — lazy writing, nepotism, the movies’ uncanny similarities to each other and the feeling that they’re just excuses for him to go on vacations on the studio’s dime, and almost all of these flaws are present throughout McCarthy’s body of work as well.

Consider — both McCarthy’s and Sandler’s ’10s body of work rely not on scripts, but primarily on improvisation shot in coverage to be made sense of later in the editing room. This can be done well — Who’s Line is it Anyway is and enduring classic and the first Iron Man movie was famously improvised. But these movies aren’t focused on the intellectual jokes or the thoughtful after-the-fact blocking and framing that made those examples work. A great example is one of the first scenes in The Boss, in which Rawlins asks for a raise while whitening Darnell’s teeth. The entire gag of the scene is that Darnell has her mouth held open while she’s having the conversation, as pictured above. There’s no dialogue hook. There’s no visual hook, other than the teeth gag. The whole thing is shot entirely with coverage, there doesn’t seem to be any blocking at all. Improvising a scene doesn’t mean putting no effort into it, if anything it means putting more in because you’re making it up on the fly. In this scene, and many others, they seem to have planned to make something up on the fly, but didn’t when push came to shove.

I have a huge problem in particular with how often McCarthy uses her sexuality as a grossout prop. Though lauded as one of the only fat role models in Hollywood and teaching everyone it’s OK to be morbidly obese — yes, when you talk about role models, that’s what you’re actually talking about — McCarthy invalidates that message by prostrating herself for laughs, particularly by putting herself in positions that would be considered sexy if she herself was. The message she’s sending to fat little girls isn’t one of body positivity, it’s one of body shaming, that being sexual while fat is valid cause for people to laugh at you, and everyone is OK with it because she’s doing it to herself.

Both McCarthy’s and Sandler’s ’10s body of work are rife with nepotism. Sandler famously casts members of his brat pack in his movies so they can go on vacations together. The Boss is directed, co-written and co-produced by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed and co-wrote her other writer/producer/star turn, 2014’s Tammy. These are the only two movies he has had any creative control over, and he’s appeared in a total of two films since 2010 that McCarthy didn’t feature in. Nobody else will touch him. Their daughter, Vivian Falcone, plays a 10-year-old Darnell.

If anything, McCarthy’s ’10s body of work is even worse than Sandler’s, because where Sandler has at least broken free from his dire need to play a plucky underdog in every single movie, McCarthy plays the same character going through the same motions in almost every starring role. She faces constant rejection and uses that pain to excuse her raunchy behavior, but through the movie she learns the value of the friendships she’s been denied or turned her back on and it turns out everyone liked her the whole time anyway. This dissonance — the plot is about people hating her, but they actually love her — pervades The Boss more than any of her other movies. Everyone in the prison loves Darnell and hates to see her go. Rawlins can’t stand working for Darnell, but invites Darnell into her home and ends up disliking her new boss even more. Even Renault, the movie’s antagonist, only goes after Darnell because he isn’t over her 25 years later.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

 

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