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Lars von Trier's The Boss of It All: The Stop Smiling Film Review

The Stop Smiling Film Review

Above: A still from The Boss of It All (IFC) / Below: Director Lars von Trier


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

By Michael Joshua Rowin

The Boss of It All
Directed by Lars von Trier
(IFC Films)

The Boss of It All opens with a direct address from Lars von Trier to his audience, informing us that his latest offering is a harmless comedy that doesn’t deserve a moment’s reflection. The irony: von Trier captures himself in a reflection off the windows of the corporate headquarters that serves as the setting of Boss. So behind the false self-deprecation — and despite his return to making a “small” Danish film after two epic, controversial films about America, which starred mostly Yankee actors — the now 50-year-old former enfant terrible of Danish and international cinema wants to call attention to both himself and his film, to reflect back something significant in this supposedly “frivolous” movie.


In other words, von Trier wants us to care very, very much about what he has to say. The coy attempt at innocence is just a regrettable retreat from his once proud arrogance. Such duplicity makes von Trier a close cousin to the protagonist of The Boss of It All, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), a “self-important actor” hired by Ravn (Peter Gantzler) to act as boss of an IT firm in negotiations with an Icelandic buyer. Kristoffer worships the von Trier-invented dramatist Gambini and, due to his conceited thespian aspirations, takes the role too seriously and flubs the meeting. But he settles into a permanent role as the firm’s founder once the company’s top employees, known as the Six Seniors, get a glimpse of the boss they’ve never seen. It turns out Ravn is the real boss who created an absentee landlord to avoid direct accountability. Once discovered, Kristoffer is used by Ravn to quell curiosity about the state of the firm; Kristoffer counters by trying to make the most of his newfound power to stop Ravn from selling the company.

As can be gathered by now, The Boss of It All is an office comedy. What doesn’t come through in a brief description is just how unfunny it is. Von Trier’s strength is as a melodramatic ironist — even when ambitious, shoot-for-the-rafters projects like Dancer in the Dark go horribly awry, a ferocious instinct for boundary-pushing entertainment comes through. The Boss of It All, however conceptually interesting, is a limp, dreary affair. The dull corporate settings place the onus squarely on the performers, and nobody, especially the droop-faced Albinus, delivers sufficient energy for the sort of delicious screwball misunderstandings that are supposed to fuel such humor. Von Trier’s flat script — dialogue-drenched and lacking in wit — is an obvious culprit. Moments drag deep into the outer limits of boredom as the actors flounder with spunkless barbs. In one scene, Kristoffer speaks with a female worker who believes she has been receiving marriage proposals from him for the last few years. She never explicitly states this, of course, and Kristoffer, thinking she’s referring to something else, unwittingly agrees to matrimony. The classic scenario of mismatched conversation is bungled by interminable banter that never reaches the expected heights of absurdist double entendre.


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