If The New York Times were to break the story that the NEA has been generously funding an ongoing study of manhood and brotherhood among everyday schmoes in contemporary culture, that sure would explain a lot. Surely few phenomena have been as comprehensively documented of late as the dilemma of nondescript modern men (usually lifelong buddies) forced by extreme circumstances beyond their control (roofies, bad bosses) into the type of reckless behavior (murder, breaking-and-entering, walking into a bar in the bad part of town) they would never normally contemplate.
Almost always the upshot involves:
- • illegal drug usage (usually unintentional)
- • first-ever encounters with law enforcement (cue bickering recrimination scene in the back seat of a squad car)
- • uneasy encounters with The Other (usually hip, powerful, sometimes grotesque black men against whom the protagonists’ manhoods are implicitly contrasted and found vastly wanting. In the case of Hangover The Other is represented by both Mike Tyson and Ken Jeong as an Asian Mafioso. Here, it’s a very funny Jamie Foxx.)
- • flashes of homosexual anxiety
- • all countered by elaborate vulgarity, gross-out humor and scatological references, as well as
- • forced interaction with that other Other: frighteningly gorgeous and overtly sexual women who positively demand to be serviced.
These stories are, in other words, the chaotic admixture of your standard emasculated cubicle slave’s daydreams and nightmares. That accounts for the panicky exhilaration.
Horrible Bosses is no different, a bromance-à-trois in the key of Judd Apatow, but it does deliver a nearly guilt-free summer comic spree, thanks to the low-key charm of its three leads: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. I seem to be the only person in the world who’s never seen Charlie Day before, but I enjoyed his scared, darting eyes and squeaky choked-up voice. The most overdeveloped of these three abused superegos, he is, of course, according to the inevitable thermodynamics of bromances, the one who will fly furthest off in the opposite direction, thanks to his Woody-Allen-in-Hollywood straight-out-of-Annie-Hall bumbling of a mega-box of high-quality cocaine.
Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein must be incredibly talented, because they nearly make us accept the outlandish moral quandary of three men pushed to murder by the epic horriblenesses of their horrible bosses. This means, of course, that the three bosses must be villified in neon colors, and the three actors involved do their best. Kevin Spacey barely has to take his Glengarry Glen Ross character up a notch to turn in his amoral corporate shark Dave Harken. Only his constant paranoia of his trophy wife’s fidelity (Elizabeth Bowen) is at all funny.
The second horrible boss is my favorite: Colin Farrel as Bobby Pellitt, a nearly deformed, Toulouse-Lautrec-looking dwarf degenerate with a massive, bulging forehead and astonishing comb-over. To say this is a vanity-free performance doesn’t go far enough. I have no idea how the other actors managed not to lose it in every scene they played with Farrell.
Jennifer Aniston’s character is the most problematic: Julia Harris, an overtan, beautiful and ridiculously unethical dentist who inexplicably and relentlessly sexually harasses her dweeby assistant Dale (Day). As Kyle (Sudeikis) comments: “That doesn’t sound so bad to me.” Whereas Harken and Pellitt are barely-exaggerated portraits of bosses who actually do exist, I dare say that sexually-harassing female bosses—especially ones who drug their employees, take sexually exploitative photos of them and then blackmail them—are far and few between.
Never you mind. It’s not like I didn’t laugh (and scream) the entire way through. I totally did. And I liked it a whole lot better than the Hangover franchise. It’s just that Horrible Bosses made me nostalgic for Bridesmaids, which managed to be every bit as hysterically funny, but with real woman (and man) characters, and true human relationships. I only wish the NEA would fund an ongoing study of women in the modern age as well.