B-

The Boss Of It All

Comedy, thy name isn't Lars von Trier. However, the abstract concept of "comedy," in Brechtian quotation marks, makes for an interesting experiment for cinema's reigning provocateur. Intermittently chiming in as a voiceover narrator, von Trier introduces The Boss Of It All in reflection behind a new camera apparatus called "Automavision," a computer-operated contraption that's designed to limit human influence over the filmmaking. (This bizarre process leaves characters weirdly framed or out of frame altogether.) As if to deflect criticism up front, he declares his new comedy "harmless" and "not worth a moment's reflection," which is correct in that it's clearly a minor project, and misleading in the sense that von Trier has more on his mind than making people laugh. Good thing, too, because The Boss Of It All, though clever as a piece of genre deconstruction, isn't terribly funny.

If von Trier had just a shred of Blake Edwards in him, things might have gone differently, because his farcical premise is far more ingenious than anything in Francis Veber's mysteriously well-regarded The Valet. With no apologies to The Office—which von Trier claims to have never seen—the film centers on IT-firm owner Peter Gantzler, who has a pathological, David Brent-like need to be loved by his employees. For years, whenever a piece of bad news needed to be delivered, he's laid the blame on the nonexistent company president. So when it comes time to sell the company to an Icelandic firm, Gantzler hires actor Jens Albinus (The Idiots) to play "the boss of it all" in order to close the deal, but Albinus doesn't perform the role as planned.

Giving the employees a chance to work out their animosity toward the big boss face to face opens up all sorts of comic possibilities, but save for a tech guy who clocks Albinus multiple times for an obscure reason, von Trier doesn't take full advantage. There's great potential in bits like a woman who screams and cries whenever the copy machine runs, or another who falls in love with the faceless "Boss" via e-mail, but von Trier cares more about a gag's mechanics than the gag itself. The Boss Of It All could be read as more a comment on filmmaking than a comedy per se, with Gantzler's gutless leader as a stand-in for a bad director who's unwilling to bring down the hammer. Consider the film von Trier's apologia for the necessary business of being a tyrant.

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