' ' Cinema Romantico: How Many Funny Lines Does Kristen Bell Get In The Boss?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Many Funny Lines Does Kristen Bell Get In The Boss?

The first couple months of this year, my girlfriend, an ardent “Veronica Mars” fan, on that bandwagon before it was a bandwagon, introduced me to the first season of the old CW show that ran from 2004-07. It was good, really reveling in its noirish flavors, like “Brick” before “Brick”, and without having to resort to such kooky dialogue to make a mark. What’s more, Kristen Bell was extraordinary as the title character, finding acerbic humor and genuine pathos over and over, often within seconds of each other, occasionally at the same time. I can only imagine watching it in the moment that you might assume A Star Was Being Born. But Hollywood, as Hollywood does, has more often than not failed to heed this bright star in the sky.

Yes, Jason Segel wrote some good lines for her in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and Bell dove into the role of a slight diva with relish, and yes, even if “The Lifeguard” had its issues, Bell still was allowed to demonstrate her chops. But too often she has been forced into pondwater scum rom coms, like “Couples Retreat”, where she and all the other ladies have to stand pat so the men can be “funny”, and “When in Rome”, which was poorly conceived and terribly executed. Even in “Hit & Run”, in which she co-starred with her husband, Dax Shepard, she finds herself playing second fiddle and with nowhere near as many comic lines as Dax, who, uh, wrote the screenplay. Well.

I had no intention of seeing “The Boss”, the latest Melissa McCarthy star vehicle. Not because Melissa McCarthy isn’t funny, because I generally think she is, but because I feared that Kristen Bell, who appeared from the trailer to be both McCarthy’s bland foil and eventual bland ally, would not be granted any funny lines. Yet when I relayed this fear to my friend Daryl, he offered a brilliant suggestion. He suggested, hey, why not watch the movie and keep a literal tally of how many funny lines Kristen Bell actually gets. So that’s exactly what I did. I Netflixed “The Boss” and got out my trusty notebook to record for myself just how many times Ms. Bell, in a film co-written by McCarthy and her husband, which did not bode well. Below are my official results.

Ouch, but true. And what increases the ouch is that Bell’s lone funny line is not really scripted as a funny line. You know? Like, McCarthy has a line about not naming your kids after gemstones because that foreshadows bottoming out which is specifically written as a line for laughs. Whether or not it does earn laughs is beside the point; its intent is to be funny. Bell gets, like, three, maybe four, lines in which the intent is to be funny. And even when the intent is to be funny, they are typically intended to be funny as a reaction to something theoretically hilariously outrageous that McCarthy has just said. Bell is just the straight woman. Not that straight women can’t be funny, of course, which is just what happens when extremely late in the movie she gets the one line that made me laugh out loud. It is this: “What is happening?”

This line happens so late in the game that it’s difficult to completely surmise the situation surrounding it, but let’s try. McCarthy is the titular boss, Michelle Darnell, an ultra-wealthy entrepreneur who was jailed and then sprung and has now found a new niche running a brownie empire with former girl scout-ish girls and the recipe of her former assistant, Bell’s Claire. This is all devolves into the obligatory narrative wilds so that, by the end, Michelle is leading some crazy break-in with Claire and Claire’s obligatory boyfriend (Some Actor), who gets more chances to be funny than Bell, that concludes with a swordfight atop a skyscraper. As the swordfight takes place, Claire stands off to the side and rhetorically asks: “What is happening?” And I laughed. And I laughed partly because Bell gives the line a nice ring of incredulity and because that ring of incredulity spoke to my own attitudes toward this sequence.

What is happening?
What was happening? Call me stupidly hopeful, but there were moments in “The Boss” bearing promise. When Michelle first gets these little daffodils to engage their inner fortune-hunter it comes on potentially empowering, and even if the screenplay suddenly forgets that angle, well, you can still take comfort in that it maintains a strictly lady-centric attitude. That gets forgotten too, of course. Indeed, both The Boss and her underling get paired off, as they must be, and everything ends in hugs, somehow, after a sword fight, when all I really wanted was for Kristen to grab a microphone that suddenly dropped from the ceiling and just do ten minutes of stand up. Because she’s really funny, you guys, even if “The Boss” has no idea.

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