Rando: Lars Von Trier's The Boss of It All (2006)

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Many words and phrases spring to mind when I think of Lars Von Trier. Provocateur. Misogynist. Misanthrope. Artist. Fraud. Vulgarian. Asshole. Scamp. Rapscallion. American hero. Juggalo. Belieber. One word that does not necessarily leap to the top of the list of labels applied to Von Trier is “entertainer.” But it is precisely because so many of Von Trier’s films and TV shows and various projects are so entertaining that he’s able to get away with so much greasy transgression. 

Von Trier is an entertainer as well as an artist but he often seems more interested in punishing audiences than giving them a pleasurable night out at the movies, in providing the giggles and guffaws, not to mention thrills, tears and pratfalls that make the cineplex such a magical place. Von Trier’s movies are lousy with philosophy and ambition and ideas and subversion even when they are more overtly about people fucking, like the Nymphomaniac motion pictures. 

Von Trier’s persona is so synonymous with shock and transgression that he all but apologizes for making a comedy that sets out to make people laugh rather than rub their nose in life’s soul-crushing brutality and perverse ugliness with his brief narration of his gloriously modest 2006 comedy The Boss of It All. 

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Von Trier’s clever workplace laugher takes place at a small IT company whose owner, Ravn (Peter Gantzler) created a fictional “Boss of it All” that none of his employees have ever met to serve as a scapegoat for his own unpopular policies and decisions. By blaming the nefarious Boss of it All for the company’s brutal tactics, he’s able to hold onto a reputation as a hug-dispensing teddy bear of a man. 

When he’s angling to sell the company out from its unsuspecting employees, Ravn needs to produce the Boss of It All in the flesh to finalize negotiations so he procures the services of a pretentious, out of work actor (Jens Albinus) to play the hitherto unseen boss for the sake of finalizing the sale. 

Ravn sadistically throws the wonderfully oblivious  into the deep end, tossing the well-meaning but overwhelmed thespian into a hornet’s nest of vicious office politics without preparing him for the gauntlet of rage, physical abuse, seduction and manipulation he’s about to face. For it seems the unseen but very much felt Boss of It All didn’t just have relationships with people in the office despite literally never showing his face for a solid decade: he was weird, intense, inappropriately personal relationships with ostensible underlings who despise him so much that they punch him upon meeting him, or think he wants to marry or fuck them. 

It wouldn’t be a proper Von Trier movie without at least a smidgen of degrading sex.

It wouldn’t be a proper Von Trier movie without at least a smidgen of degrading sex.

Though the term would not enter the cultural lexicon for another few year with the release of the 2010 documentary of the same name, what Ravn is doing, essentially, is cat fishing his entire office. He’s creating fake relationships through the creation of someone who does not ultimately exist and consequently can be whatever the duped underling wants him to be. 

Albinus is a wonderfully expressive physical comedian with a gloriously expressive, melancholy face who at first responds to Ravn’s directive to go along with whatever he’s subjected to by glumly muttering “yes” as a workplace overflowing with outsized emotions towards Boss of It All has their way with him. 

But somewhere along the line the improvisation-deficient actor begins to realize that he’s being played for a fool and begins to develop a little agency. He responds to continuously being thrown under the boss by Ravn by developing a conscience and a will to resist Ravn’s sinister machinations. 

That’s what they said about  Jingle All the Way 2  and that movie swept the Oscars!

That’s what they said about Jingle All the Way 2 and that movie swept the Oscars!

The sweet-faced goon has a redemptive arc that finds him transgressing the boundaries of his role, literally and figuratively, for the sake of standing up for people who are about to be screwed out of everything they’ve been working for.
The Boss of It All is a master class in the comedy of awkwardness and discomfort from a filmmaker adept at pushing audiences and characters alike into some wonderfully uncomfortable places. In tone and subject matter, it’s the closest we will ever get to a Lars Von Trier-helmed version of The Office.

Indeed, Mitch Hurtwitz of Arrested Development was in talks to remake the movie for Brian Grazer and Universal in the early teens and while that obviously never happened, possibly for the best, this sly material would seemingly be a good tonal fit for the man who gave the world the Bluths. 

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Alternately, The Boss of It All suggests a wised-up, darker, more satirical version of the high-concept, super-commercial farces that made Francis Veber a commercial force in his native France and Touchstone’s favorite foreign filmmaker to remake. It's fascinating seeing Von Trier work in such an uncharacteristically straightforward, commercial vein, to prioritize entertainment and comedy over confronting audiences with the hideousness in their own souls and how it’s reflected in the ugliness, corruption and perversion of the institutions we create in our own ferociously imperfect image. 

After suffering through two and a half hours of Lars Von Trier at his worst, and his most excessive in the form of The House That Jack Built, The Boss of It All was like a goddamn breath of fresh air. 

Even in The House That Jack Built there are moments of stunning beauty and artistry amidst all the carnage, bloodshed and ugliness but The Boss of It All is deliberately artless. According to the trivia section on The Boss of It All’s IMDB page, “This movie is shot with camera technique called Automavision, an innovation in which the camera angles and movements are selected by a computer.”

The use of Automavision adds to the film’s sense of universality. This is seemingly a story and a film that could be set in any business, in any country, in any culture. The spare minimalism of the production design puts the focus where it squarely belongs: on a witty and inventive screenplay and universally fine, layered performances that add an element of lived-in authenticity to the smartly plotted shenanigans. 

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The Boss of It All made me laugh. It entertained me. That all it set out to do. It’s all I wanted it to do so even though Automavision doesn’t come into play much of the time it nevertheless seems safe to deem this modest creative and stylistic experiment a success. Good job, Lars. You really brought the chuckles and the guffaws, and the tee-hee-hees, and Lord knows that’s good enough for me. 

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Rando!Nathan Rabin