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
Actress-co-writer Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone have crafted something special with THE BOSS – specifically with lead character, spoiled businesswoman “Michelle Darnell.” In the film, Darnell (McCarthy) has to learn a tough lesson about humility, friendship and family after she’s sent to prison for insider trading. In order to resurrect her image, she enlists the help of her trusty assistant Claire (Kristen Bell).
Michelle, who’s look was inspired by Leona Helmsley and Suze Orman, was someone McCarthy brought to the Groundlings stage fifteen years ago. However, the time wasn’t right to bring her to the big screen – until now. McCarthy stated,
“I just could never let her go. I took that as a sign that I wasn’t done with her. I’d hoped that since I loved her so much – with all of her flaws and all of her good and bad points – I just kept thinking about her. Ben and I would be talking about something completely random. I remember one time, he probably thought I wasn’t focused, but we were talking about something and I go, ‘I think Michelle’s an orphan. I think she just didn’t have anyone really love her.’ He was all, ‘We were not talking about that at all!’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I may have drifted off.’ The more I thought about it, the more I loved that kind of unbridled confidence – that ‘I’m going to wear what I want, do what I want, say what I want.’ We don’t get to see that a lot with female characters. For me, the joy of playing her was to know and to show why she’s like that. That’s really why I love her. She was hurt enough to build up a wall. Some people hate that, but I go, ‘Gah. I wonder what made them like that.’”
TAMMY was Falcone and McCarthy’s first cinematic character-driven adventure together. Needless to say, it was filled with lots of learning curves. Falcone said,
“I learned that people are gonna ask you questions all day and you don’t have to answer them right away. I was able to see the bigger picture and what I needed in coverage, in shots, and how we were going to go from one thing to the next a little more clearly. It made me feel less stressed. I felt more under control in my own skin. With this one I felt 30% less likely to be fired.”
McCarthy conceded that their “writer’s room” process is all about tightening the screws holding the story together, little by little with multiple re-writes.
“We knew the story we wanted to tell. We show where she came from – show the crash and let her try to get up and still maintain her strength. We improvise a lot. But I have to have the script done. We re-write…Ben and I are insane about it. The second we get a re-write done, we go back to page one and start it again until it’s done.”
One of the raucous comedy’s biggest set pieces is a turf war street fight that escalates dramatically between a Girl Scout-esque troop and Michelle’s splinter troop, “Darnell’s Darlings.” The action required kids, as well as their moms, to throw a few punches. Falcone elaborated,
“That was one of the more challenging parts of the movie. It’s also one of my favorite parts of the movie. We knew we wanted to make a GANGS OF NEW YORK style street fight with children and adults. The logistics behind that get a little tricky. We had to find… we strategically put stunt women who were moms. We also had stunt women to come in for the children and we’d face replace. There was a surprising amount of visual effects in this movie. Luckily, I felt less overwhelmed about it.”
Another scene had Falcone in front of the camera, playing a tiny role as Darnell’s lawyer. Not only did he have to field her verbal potshots, he had to field a tennis ball flying at his neck – a move McCarthy tends to favor on film. Falcone said,
“She tends to enjoy hitting me. I try to give her a shot where she can succeed. That was a CG ball, though Melissa kept suggesting it should be a real ball. I said, ‘Nope! We don’t have to do a real ball at all!’ She’s like, ‘Nah. I think you should really feel it.’ I’m like, ‘No. I don’t want to.’ And then she whacks a tennis ball against the fence. She was like, ‘I just want you to feel it so you can react.’ Honestly, to feel it did help. I was able to jerk a little more. I was semi-scared she was going to hit me with the real ball.”
It’s obviously a strength that THE BOSS features a strong feminine voice behind the camera as well as in front of it. McCarthy stated,
“If you have no point of view – if no one behind the camera can really speak to ‘that’s not what a woman would say,’ or ‘that doesn’t feel right’ – you don’t have a whole point of view. You’re just limiting the scope – you’re limiting your credibility. Any time you mix it up, the world gets more interesting.”
As for if we can look forward to more films from characters that originated on the Groundlings stage, Falcone said,
“There’s this one character that we both love named ‘Marbles.’ That was something we used to do. I haven’t figured out a way to put her in a movie – or anywhere.”
THE BOSS open on April 8.
Header photo credit: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell and Ben Falcone in THE BOSS. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.