Lars von Trier's humorless direction undoes an otherwise promising premise in this Danish workplace comedy.

Boss Of It All

on May 25, 2007 by Jay Antani
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Lars von Trier's stab at screwball comedy gets the running time right. At under 100 minutes, the writer/director's The Boss of It All conveys its story at a brisk enough pace, roughly approximating those more masterful exercises in the “compact comedy” made by Howard Hawks or Ernst Lubitsch. Indeed, while watching it, one can't help but entertain the notion of how differently it would play—so much looser, more free-spirited (and less neurotic)—had it been directed by the likes of those aforementioned storytellers. But, alas, The Boss of It All is helmed by von Trier, the culprit behind dreary, heavy-handed satires like Dogville and excruciating torture mechanisms like Breaking the Waves (though, granted, the latter boasted a spectacular Emily Watson).

On paper, Boss sounds promisingly hilarious: Ravn (Peter Gantzler), the CEO of a software firm, hires a hard-luck method actor to step in and play the role of the boss for the other employees. Why? Because Ravn has never revealed to his people that he is, in fact, their boss. He has inferiority issues, and now it's more crucial than ever that the boss, even a fraudulent one, make an appearance to boost employee morale as Ravn secretly negotiates the sale of his company to a cantankerous Icelandic businessman. There are plenty of opportunities for unhinged laughs here, but this is von Trier, so nothing gets unhinged so much as hammered out of shape.

Jens Albinus plays Kristoffer, the actor-for-hire—intense, serious, and a complete nincompoop. Kristoffer is a comic goldmine, and, when von Trier isn't putting a damper on the party, it's clear that Albinus has the chops to mine his character down to Kristoffer's clownish heart. Left to his own devices, Albinus could've chewed up the office scenery, especially alongside Gantzler—the pair's chemistry brews with a nervous discomfort, a strained politesse, the ingredients for all workplace comedies. Albinus scores a few scattered laughs in his attempts to find a rapport with his pseudo-underlings and his slow realization that Ravn has left for him a minefield of frustrated employees. His sexually charged contretemps with Lise, the shark-like office blonde (Iben Hjejle), his romantic blundering with the marriage-minded Heidi (Mia Lyhne), and his run-ins with the pathologically jumpy Mette (Louise Mieritz) are highlights.

When Kristoffer grows to understand just how far Ravn is willing to go to finalize his company's sale, even compromising his employees' careers, we find von Trier hinting at a feel-good comic finale as the fake boss sets out to undermine the real boss. Finally, though, von Trier is just too self-absorbed a filmmaker, too much “the boss of it all” to allow for anything as anarchic and joyful as a screwball comedy to bloom from this material. Scene after scene that would've floated lighter than air in a Hawksian romp are mired in the self-serious parsing and philosophical talk-talk that have come to characterize this director's oeuvre. The Boss of It All begs for a remake, its premise revisited by a bright, buoyant talent—someone, you know, with a sense of humor.
Distributor: IFC First Take
Cast: Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Benedikt Erlingsson, Iben Hjejle, Henrik Prip, Mia Lyhne, Casper Christensen, Louise Mieritz, Jean-Marc Barr, Sofie Grabol and Anders Hove
Director/Screenwriter: Lars von Trier
Producers: Meta Louise Foldager, Vibeke Windelov and Signe Jensen
Genre: Comedy; Danish-, Icelandic- and Russian-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 99 min.
Release date: May 25, 2007 ltd
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