Original US opening: July 8, 2011
Production budget: $35,000,000
Worldwide gross: $209,638,559
I’ve talked about how hard comedies can be to review, yet here I am, reviewing another. This time, it’s the 2011 hit, Horrible Bosses. This was Seth Gordon’s sophomore outing as a director (after Four Christmases) and starred a rejuvenated Jason Bateman and a whole host of others that made up quite the stellar cast for any film, much less a comedy. It all worked, clicking with worldwide audiences and earning approximately six times its budget in box office receipts. This was also during the R-rated comedy renaissance. R-rated comedies had practically lost any sense of marketplace presence until right around 2009, when The Hangover was released. Horrible Bosses was one of the films that carried that momentum forward and helped the genre come roaring back into prominence.
The premise is simple. Three friends (played by Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) all have . . . you guessed it . . . horrible bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell, respectively). They’re so horrible, in fact, that the guys make a pact to kill said bosses. Of course, these guys are ordinary joes, not career criminals, so they quickly decide to find some assistance. Things spiral out of control from there.
Taken at face value, the themes of the film are extraordinarily serious in nature. We’re talking murder, sexual harassment (Jennifer Aniston’s Julia won’t take no for an answer from Charlie Day’s Dale), breaking and entering, adultery, blackmail, and more. In the real world, these things aren’t funny. But this isn’t the real world. This is a fictional comedy and the story is presented at such an exaggerated and ludicrously over-the-top level that it could only be taken seriously by the many people who now find their life’s goal to be offended by entertainment. I can hear them, now: “Sexual harassment is not something to be laughed at!” No, it isn’t. But seeing Jennifer Aniston behave so contrary to her traditional archetype, all while spewing lines too absurd for anyone to seriously say to another human being in real life is very much funny. These types of films aren’t condoning the events that take place within. They’re exacerbating them and presenting them from an unexpected perspective in order to craft very specific situations for which comedy may be found within. That’s why a movie like this is rated R – to potentially weed out the people who don’t understand this simple concept. Unfortunately, awareness of outsiders’ perspectives don’t automatically download into one’s brain on their seventeenth birthday. Or their twenty-seventh, fifty-seventh, or ever. So, there are many who will never care about anything except their own profile and they love to use “offensive” movies like this to raise it.
That wasn’t quite as much of a problem in 2011 as it is, today, though. To be straightforward about it, the entire cast delivers very funny performances and that’s all it took. The film was a counterprogramming hit (Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released, nine days prior). Not only did the cast deliver but, as seen in the list of names above, they were all popular, endearing stars that are capable of drawing audiences into the theater. On their own, none of them are going to deliver a record-breaking opening. But, together, along with the novelty of seeing those like Aniston and Farrell so far out of their wheelhouse, people were going to be curious. It worked.
While some of the cast played outside of their typical roles, the three protagonists were firmly entrenched in theirs. I’ve said before that Bateman is the undisputed champion of deadpan comedy and he does nothing to dispute that, here. Charlie Day is his normal type-B everyman. And Sudeikis is charming and smarmy as ever. This is what they do and seeing them do it, together, is a blast. Paired off against their respective bosses, each is outmatched. But when put into a metaphorical six-person tag team match (Holla holla!), they figure they have a chance. The comedy comes far more from the cast’s delivery than the script, itself. Not everyone would have understood how to make this humor land, but everyone here gets it.
As with every comedy, any one person’s level of enjoyment will depend on a couple of factors: their specific sense of humor and their ability to understand this particular, more subtle style. It’s not about jokes and one-liners. The humor, here, is entirely situational. Typically, that’s my favorite kind, so I really enjoy this film. You may or may not, but either way, it absolutely succeeds at what it sets out to do and will be a fun night in for many who have never seen it and many others who would like to revisit it.
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