Dear Horrible Bosses,
You serve as proof positive that we as a population might just be able to move beyond the lazy viciousness of comedies like Hangover Part II. Though perhaps the lesser of the group, you stand up and take your place beside Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher, all of you serving as proof that comedy isn’t dead, isn’t broken, isn’t a forgotten wasteland of tepid cruelty and unlikeable people. However, whereas those films relied on shaggy good nature and outrageous extremity respectively, you bring your own special charm to the table, and deploy it to great effect.
Comedy can come from any number of places. It can come from a subversion of expectations, resulting in sustained, shocked laughter. It can come from single gags resulting in massive belly laughs. It can come from jokes or moments or observations that touch too close to home. Your humor, though, comes from a place a little more delicate and difficult to pull off; watching a group of inherently decent people attempt the indecent, their every move sinking them deeper and deeper into a realm of absurdity that only highlights their criminal ineptitude.
More specifically, you follow three men, Nick, Dale, and Kurt, who have come to their wits end regarding their variously intolerable bosses. Nick suffers under Mr. Harken, a soulless and downright evil purveyor or lies and deceptions who rules over Nick with a cunning reserved mostly for super villains from comic book movies. Dale, meanwhile, is subjected daily to the increasingly deranged seductions of Dr. Julia Harris. Kurt, fortunately, loves his job and his boss. Unfortunately, his boss dies, and his coke-addicted son, Bobby Pellitt, takes over and begins letting his insanity run the show.
In your early scenes you set up these men and their respective bosses with a flourish and brevity, an economy of action, that very quickly aligns an audiences’ emotions on the side of the workers. These are flawed but decent men, trying their hardest to get by in life, brought to the brink of desperation by the depredations of their employers. The slow transition from impotent whining to attempted murder is executed with the kind of sloppy zaniness that can only come from men who were never meant to try their hand at crime in the first place.
To talk to much about your plot would be to spoil your great surprises and more unexpected pleasures. It’s rare that a comedy is crafted with the kind of clockwork mechanization of a thriller or heist film, but you create an effortless and comical plot that allows for the kinds of logical outcomes that make everything even more hilarious.
In addition to this plotting and setup, you also arm yourself with a cast that brings exactly what you need in order to excel. Charlie Day, Jason Bateman, and Jason Sudeikis each bring with them the exact tools to take their characters to the edge of parody while still allowing for rays of endearing humanity. Charlie Day brings frazzled, manic energy to his portrayal of a man at wits end and with very few options. Jason Bateman does his always dependable hang-dog schtick, while Sudeikis lays on the white bread charm as a lady killer with just a little too much easy going certainty. All of these men deliver the goods.
However, as with most super hero movies, it is the villains who really shine here. Colin Farrell is the most immediately appreciable as the young Pellitt, a balding maniac who has no sense of grace, social norms, or even common human decency. He takes a scumbag and turns him into the kind of blathering doofus that is comically vile rather than repulsively inhuman. Jennifer Aniston likewise plays against type and comically enthusiastic as a nymphomaniac not above using sedatives and an iPad as accessories to blackmail.
Your most brilliant and inspired choice, though, is in casting Kevin Spacey as the most evil, cunning, and downright insane boss ever to let his power go to his head. His mania more than anything else drives your narrative and creates some of the most engaging and cathartic moments in this movie, especially your unhinged final act.
Are you an instant classic of the humor genre? Perhaps not. Not everyone can be an Airplane! or Caddyshack. Sometimes we just need a well written, well acted, and competently directed comedy that comes, does its job well, and then slides off in the distance of our memory only to be awakened on a lazy Saturday afternoon on Netflix instant play. You are that movie, and I can’t wait to sit on the couch one day with a beer and some good friends and watch you all over again.
Loving you just the way you are,
Brian J. Roan