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The Films of Ben Falcone

Tammy (July 7/14)

Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, Tammy follows McCarthy's boisterous title character as she loses her job and embarks on a freewheeling road trip with her feisty grandmother (Susan Sarandon's Pearl). It's ultimately clear that Tammy improves a great deal as it progresses, as the movie, in its initial stages, seems to be offering just another variation on McCarthy's well-worn (and increasingly tedious) schtick - with Falcone and McCarthy's screenplay placing the central character in a handful of egregiously broad situations (eg Tammy's encounter with a dying deer). There's little doubt, however, that director Falcone does a nice job of slowly drawing the viewer into the proceedings, as the first-time filmmaker employs a refreshingly low-key sensibility that paves the way for an episodic, almost character-study-like midsection - with the effectiveness of this stretch heightened by McCarthy's surprisingly textured work as the increasingly sympathetic protagonist. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Falcone has peppered the supporting cast with a number of rock-solid performers, including Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, and Kathy Bates.) And although Falcone and McCarthy can't resist the temptation to throw the protagonist in a few unreasonably silly situations, Tammy builds to a final half hour that's much more involving and heartfelt than one might've anticipated - with the highlight undoubtedly a touching sequence between McCarthy and Bates' respective characters. The end result is a decent comedy/drama that hopefully marks McCarthy's first step towards a more varied selection of roles, as the actress demonstrates an impressive range here that indicates an ability to tackle more than just broadly-conceived comic-relief characters.

out of

The Boss (April 7/16)

Filmmaker Ben Falcone's disappointing followup to 2014's Tammy, The Boss follows Melissa McCarthy's Michelle Darnell, a powerful businesswoman, as she's sent to prison for a six-month stint after a competitor (Peter Dinklage's hilarious and under-utilized Renault) exposes her less-than-savory financial practices - with the movie primarily detailing Michelle's post-prison efforts to get back on her feet (much to the constant consternation of her long-suffering assistant, Kristen Bell's Claire). It's almost impossible to understate just how terrible and unwatchable a note The Boss strikes in its opening scenes, as Falcone, working from a script cowritten with McCarthy and Steve Mallory, employs an unreasonably broad sensibility that's both totally unfunny and oddly discomforting. (There is, for example, a sequence in which Claire whitens Michelle's teeth that's more desperate than hilarious.) The movie doesn't begin to improve, then, until Michelle is forced to start over, with Falcone's emphasis on the character's fish-out-of-water paving the way for a number of better-than-expected sequences (including Michelle's brassy attitude towards a group of mild-mannered girl scout-type figures). It's distressing to note, however, that The Boss' affable midsection gives way to a seriously tedious third act, as Michelle is forced to learn a series of important life lessons before engaging in a needlessly over-the-top heist-oriented climax - which ensures that the film fizzles out to a rather astonishing degree (and, in the end, renders the various positives within the proceedings moot).

out of

Life of the Party (June 4/18)

The latest collaboration between Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, Life of the Party follows McCarthy's Deanna as she enrolls in her daughter's (Molly Gordon's Maddie) college in the wake of an unexpected divorce. It's perhaps not surprising to discover that Life of the Party, much like Falcone's previous two films (2014's Tammy and 2016's The Boss), suffers from a decidedly bland sensibility that's reflected in its various attributes, and there's little doubt that the movie's somewhat generic atmosphere paves the way for a hit-and-miss midsection that's increasingly more miss than hit. McCarthy and Falcone's sitcom-like screenplay emphasizes the episodic exploits of the various (admittedly one-dimensional) characters, and although the narrative boasts a small handful of entertaining (and even funny) moments (eg Deanna reacts poorly to a sorority paddling), Life of the Party's momentum is, as a result, virtually non-existent and it becomes more and more difficult to genuinely care about the protagonist's hackneyed journey. It helps, then, that Falcone has assembled an impressively strong cast that generally allays the somewhat mediocre screenplay, with the movie benefiting substantially from the efforts of such periphery players as Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, and Stephen Root. (McCarthy herself is good here, to be sure, though the role isn't exactly a stretch for the often one-note actress.) By the time the tedious let's-throw-a-big-party-to-raise-money finale rolls around, Life of the Party has confirmed its place as a perpetually underwhelming comedy that hopefully marks the end of McCarthy and Falcone's cinematic partnership.

out of

© David Nusair