Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Being a “straight-man” in a comedy act is sometimes a tougher job than being the comedian stuck with the pratfalls and gags. You’ve got to have a certain knack for setting up the punchlines to land just so. That’s where Kristen Bell comes in and makes it look easy. She’s tackled comedy previously in films like WHEN IN ROME, YOU AGAIN and FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. Only we’ve never her seen her play the laughs quite like she does in director Ben Falcone’s THE BOSS. Bell plays, Claire, a put-upon assistant to Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy), a wealthy, foul-mouthed entrepreneur who gets nailed for insider trading and sent to jail. When no one else is left to help Michelle out of her stupor, it’s Claire – and her family’s secret brownie recipe – to the rescue.
Bell adores mining scenes for all different types of comedy.
“My energetic weirdo isn’t as funny as Melissa’s energetic weirdo. In comedy, you need certain things for the recipe to work. You can’t have perfection because comedy is in the imperfection and the faults. You always need a straight man. I’m still a part of the joke being the straight man. I don’t necessarily distinguish one from the other. I enjoy being the straight-man particularly against Melissa because she is such a comedic genius.”
Her skill set was certainly tested when she was required to keep a straight face during a scene that involved McCarthy and a teeth whitening mouth stretcher.
“She had it in for like two hours. I don’t know how her face didn’t go numb. I had to attempt to say my lines three inches from her face. It’s just such a funny thing to stare at the inside of someone’s mouth and down their throat. When she would improv in that scene, I wouldn’t know what she was saying because it was so mangled.”
Single-mom Claire finds that her recipe for success lies within a family recipe for brownies, and with the help of Michelle’s astute business acumen, the pair set out to achieve riches and redemption. This required Bell to be around brownies on set a lot.
“I made a commitment to myself never to eat any of these brownies. I tried one and they were delicious. They were appealing for the first seven days. And then by month two, when we were using the same tray of refrigerated brownies, I was over it. They still smelled sweet, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was a brownie overdose. Then we switched to the plastic ones; we would throw them at each other when they’d need to be more durable. I preferred those ones.”
The pair enlist Claire’s daughter and a group of her underdog classmates to join a splinter group not terribly dissimilar of the Brownies. Think the Brownies meets THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Bell was actually part of the organization when she was young.
“I was a Brownie for a couple of years. I love the Brownies! I mean, it was called the Brownies – so it was very appealing. I was too small to play a lot of sports, so it was a perfect after-school activity. There are certain times when separating boys and girls is really healthy because it creates a safer environment – especially in early-adolescence – to talk about certain things you don’t feel comfortable in front of the opposite sex. They can be very healthy experiences.”
Claire’s arc involves her learning how to deal with the bullies in her life – not just Michelle, but others. Bell thinks bullies themselves can change their behavior.
“Hurt people hurt people. It’s a cycle that never ends. Almost everyone deserves forgiveness – especially if their intentions have changed. I don’t support bullying in the slightest, but I definitely think forgiveness is one of the biggest gifts you can give on the planet. A reformed bully always deserves forgiveness.”
THE BOSS open on April 8.
Feature Photo: Kristen Bell and Melissa McCarthy in THE BOSS. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.