You’re not the boss of me now
“How you like me now?” asks The Heavy as Horrible Bosses climaxes, and the answer, tinged with regret, is ‘not as much as I wanted to’. Seth Gordon’s vicarious revengearama comes frontloaded with good will; perhaps enough to carry you through to the end. It’s only then, long after the lights have gone up and you’re on your way home, that the rictus grin softens, chortles turn to titters and finally, as the key turns in your front door, you hear that long involuntary sigh. My word, that sound came from you! Gordon and company blew it.
That initial good will comes from a well-judged marketing campaign, including an effective trailer, that laid out the film’s comedy assets; a series of jewels for your wide eyed delectation. For a start there are those likable leads; the deadpan, underplayed charm of Jason Bateman, the effeminate panic of Charlie Day and the likable strutting of Jason Sudeikis.
In accordance with the film’s wage slave pitch, each is subordinate to a comedy grotesque. Bateman is paired with Kevin Spacey, reanimating his Swimming with Sharks shtick, Day enjoys role reversing sexual harassment from a potty mouthed Jennifer Aniston, here ennobled with a masculine libido and Sudeikis takes it up the shunter from Colin Farrell’s balding, and therefore naturally perverted, coke head, who inherits the company when the film’s only decent boss, Donald Sutherland, suffers an impromptu heart attack.
The three men resolve to kill their buck stoppers and it’s from that point that you suspect Horrible Bosses was written in two stages. The first, the plotting, is undeniably accomplished. The premise on paper seems simple enough but like Collin Higgin’s Nine to Five, a better film that you’re sometimes reminded of, care has been taken to circumvent obvious advances in the story. Judged on set up and surprise alone, Gordon would have crafted an enjoyable comedy of errors. Unfortunately it’s the implementation of stage two, the jokes, that guarantees disappointment.
Horrible Bosses has been poured into the mould marked “R rated comedy” and left to set while its writers retire to the garden for a pissing contest. As refugees from the recent Hangover Part II will attest, the rating, when applied to US film comedy, is now synonymous with a particular kind of broad, masculine, for which read aggressive, humour, in which subtlety and wit play no part. If the R rated comedy were a man, and it would almost certainly be a man, then he’d be a lad; a boy; an overly gregarious, beer soaked, open shirted alpha with a rapacious sexuality.
The assumption of Gordon and his four writers seems to be that profanity alone, when exiting the face hole of the usually more reserved Aniston, for example, will be enough to stimulate the crotch scratching, bestubbled crowd, and maybe it is, but the rest of us are left to lament the wasted potential as set up after set up fails to mine sufficient laughs, and this despite all concerned performing with spirit.
Cunt soup! Did you find that funny? Well, quite.
An unwelcome side effect of this dick-centric approach to breaking ribs is the importation of misogyny; presumably thought to be essential in courting the target demographic but itself something of a grotesque and highly effective at sabotaging many of the jokes.
Jennifer Aniston’s character is a nightmare for poor, beta male Charlie Day, but not for the audience, because she’s a porn fantasy writ large. Crude, lecherous, stimulated by home made skin flicks and unburdened by guilt when it comes to receiving men already placed in happy relationships, Aniston is a Zoo magazine subscriber’s dream, complete with a cover shoot physique. The joke is that Day is the lady of the set up – monogamous, protective of his sexuality and threatened by her advances. She might have been more feminine in her approach, you think, but that imagined constituency of foreskin tugging grunts might not understand a woman acting like a woman, and what does female sexuality mean anyway? I mean, is there even such a thing?
The other women in Horrible Bosses are also victims of the comedy, rather than its engine. “Large Marge”, who Farrell wants dismissed, is fat. That’s why she’s funny. The joke might have been on Farrell of course, the fascistic shit, but Sudeikis revisits it later, mistaking her weight for pregnancy. Women may not laugh but then this isn’t for them.
Day’s fiancé, Stacey, is a sweet, mousey, silly little thing; the sort of wholesome baby factory that we males revere, though never fantasise about. She’s therefore the perfect contrast with the aggressive Aniston. Stacey neatly underlines her whoredom, in case you weren’t sure, and offers up an idealised, hypocritically rendered opposite. Not much to challenge the porn mentality there.
Finally, in the film’s parade of retarded sexuality, there’s the cheating wife of Spacey’s character, Harken. She’s attractive and naturally, Harken, for all his bravado quite an insecure man, assumes she must be cheating on him, which of course she is. Her infidelity, which is her only character trait, facilitates a few reversals in the story, but it also allows Sudeikis to fuck her, which is a convenient way for the audience to get a little additional proxy revenge on their pay masters. Women, viewed this way, are just another one of their bosses’ possessions. Sleeping with Spacey’s wife is no different from Sudeikis inserting Farrell’s tooth brush into his rectum – it’s all part of the same deal.
All of this detracts from the good comedy Horrible Bosses might have been, and would have been, had more intelligence been allowed to come to the fore. Of the employees, Jason Bateman makes the best of it, showing a talent for understatement and a sense of comic timing that eludes his co-stars. Of the bosses, Colin Farrell’s drug and prostitute dependent fuckwit has the most potential so it’s curious that he’s used the least. Ultimately that’s the story of the whole movie; plenty of promise, a smattering of laughs, little pay off. It’s unlikely to be promoted to the status of comedy classic any time soon.