It's with an almost blushing apology that writer/director Lars von Trier voices the introductory narrative to his latest film, The Boss of it All: "Trust me, this film won't be worth a moment's reflection. It's a comedy, and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. Just a cozy time." You read that right—having taken a break from his two-thirds completed American Trilogy, Denmark's most revered cinematic sadist up and made a simple, apparently straight-laced comedy. Which, based upon this ass-covering intro and relentlessly winking asides, he seems to be more than a little embarrassed about.
The funny thing is that, at face value, he's not being entirely facetious. The Boss of it All's premise reads like a middling American satire: The founder of a successful IT firm has for years evaded the responsibility of his unpopular management by manufacturing an absent CEO—the titular boss of it all—down from whom all unfavorable decisions are passed. When the real boss decides to sell the company, he hires a pretentious, out-of-work actor to play the part, and—unsurprisingly—all manner of hilarity ensues.
It's with an apparent contempt for mechanical comedy that von Trier approaches his own subject matter—to the point that he literally brought on a robot as his cinematographer. (Using a process called Automavision, von Trier set up his preferred fixed camera position and then allowed a computer to choose when to tilt, pan, or zoom—creating an always erratic, occasionally annoying visual style that drives the film.) But after all the apologies and piss-takes inherent in the very fabric of Boss, the most surprising aspect is just how well it works as not only a comedy, but as a traditional Lars von Trier film—hitting all the familiar marks of his dramatic story arcs, just playing them for laughs instead of calculated sentiment. Sure, it's light—but a little change is becoming now and again.