- Rated NR
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Bob Westal
he cinema bad-boy whose half-demented narratives tortured Emily Watson, Bjork and Nicole Kidman, in the controversial melodramas, “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville,” does something really strange in “The Boss of It All” – screwball comedy. Even stranger, writer-director Lars von Trier’s set-up is almost high-concept –
“The Office” meets “Tootsie,” sans drag and with subtitles.
The emotionally needy lawyer-owner (Peter Gantzler) of a Danish IT company is too softhearted to take on the less pleasant tasks involved with being the big boss. To get around this, he invents a fictional absentee “boss of it all” to send nasty and/or manipulative emails and generally play the bad cop to his office-bound teddy bear. When a flesh-and-blood boss is needed for a single meeting with an Icelandic outfit, he hires an obsessive, artier-than-thou actor (Jens Albinus). Naturally, the meeting goes badly and the situation spirals out of control. The would-be Danish Brando is forced to continue playing the role, despite knowing nothing of IT or, more important, the tempestuous personal lives of his “employees.”
This might sound like easy-to-take mainstream material – but not so fast. Von Trier is known as much for his love of self-imposed limitations (he calls them “obstructions”) as for his cinema of cruelty. Comedy is hard, but he’ll find a way to make it harder. In “The Boss of It All” he drops his trademark hand-held camera (he was a master of the “vomit-cam” long before “The Bourne Ultimatum”), for something truly bizarre: Automavision, a computerized device that remains relatively still, but randomly reframes shots and also monkeys with the sound. The result is a film-editing nightmare: a never-ending string of distracting jump-cuts, strange transitions, apparently pointless repetition of dialogue, sound drop-outs, and other reminders of why cinematic rules are not always made to be broken.
I’m a pretty big fan of von Trier – and I’m an even bigger fan of this kind of character-driven comedy – but this time his formal hi-jinks simply get in the way. Some of the best moments involve Iben Hjejle (John Cusack’s Nordic true love in “High Fidelity”) as a sexually available colleague who’s been told the boss is gay (and dares him to prove otherwise), and lovely Louise Mieritz as another coworker who thinks the big man is interested in her hand in marriage.
Still, every time we start to have fun, that darn camera keeps putting the actors out of frame, stepping all over the strong writing and first-rate performances without adding anything to compensate. I’m all for directors challenging themselves but, sometimes, the easy way is also the best way.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The DVD includes some short, reasonably informative English-language features from IFC on the making of “The Boss of It All” and von Trier’s use of Automavision. A couple of not-so-funny “mockumentaries” (actually just mock-interviews), however, are less than thrilling.