Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
LIKE A BOSS
Rated R, 84 minutes.
Director: Miguel Arteta
Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek, Jessica St. Clair, Ari Graynor, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Coolidge, Billy Porter, Karan Soni, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen
Finding empowerment through female friendship is the concept at the heart of director Miguel Arteta’s LIKE A BOSS. While that’s ultimately the film’s strongest aspect, the rest of the story about two entrepreneurial besties who fight to gain control back from an investor with ulterior motives tragically falters delivering the goods. Its connect-the-dots formula, coupled with its mixed messages and stale character conundrums and conflicts, overwhelms, making this a messterpiece.
Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) are longtime friends. Their sisterhood was forged when Mia and her mom took in Mel when she was young – and they’ve been inseparable ever since. They room together. They eat together. And they’ve even formed a business together, a makeup company that prides itself on emphasizing their client’s natural beauty. However, when their start-up goes massively into debt because they’ve been slacking, Mel encourages Mia to link up with a successful investor, Claire Luna (Salma Hayek). Though Mia is reticent, she relents, realizing there’s no other way to save their struggling business.
Trouble is their pint-sized new boss, who’s constantly clad in designer wears (provided by Hayek’s husband’s luxury brand conglomerate), wields a golf club as an affectation and has a hidden agenda (to break these businesswomen apart to gain control of their assets). Claire gives them questionable advice, like firing their cosmetic chemist Barrett (Billy Porter), which sends their other employee, dimwitted Sydney (Jennifer Coolidge) into depression. Claire continues to set them up for failure, pitting them against another start-up run by two straight men (played by Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen). She also sows seeds of discontent within the duo, causing them to doubt their bond.
Writers Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly’s focus lies on tired pratfalls and uninspired situations rather than clever wit, or uproarious comedic stingers. Their checklist motivations, loosely stringing elements together to slap a prescribed “Girls Night Out” rom-com label, aren’t nearly as authentic as the relationship guiding the narrative. Not only does it hit all the predictable points utilizing uninventive character types (stoners caught in a state of arrested development) and genre tropes (it culminates in a Big Presentation where honesty wins), many of the girl gang bonding scenes and gross-out gags to show that women can be raunchy, too (as if we didn’t know), feel forced and stale, respectively. Plus, there’s a dissonance in its message to always trust a black woman’s intuition when we see who technically saves the day.
An odd dichotomy also appears. There are times where the antagonist’s demands seem reasonable. Mel and Mia are flakey and in desperate need of a wake-up call. Mia blows off work for the flimsiest excuse. In addition to Claire’s initial monetary contribution, she encourages them to mature their business, get an action plan together, and innovate their product line, yet she’s treated as a villain. In act one, Mel and Mia’s girl squad (played by Jessica St. Clair, Ari Graynor and Natasha Rothwell) explicitly yell at them to get their acts together. Yet in the third act, they apologize for their behavior, saying they spoke with them that way out of jealousy.
That said, Arteta finds moments where each of his actors stretches themselves beyond the expected, or at least play into their beloved personas. Haddish is bequeathed with most of the bawdy, ribald dialogue, but she’s also incredibly capable carrying the picture’s poignancy. Byrne hits silly and serious tones as well. Hayek makes a risky pass at broad comedy with her voluminous red wig, Cheshire Cat-like veneers and sky high-heeled character creation. Porter’s delivery of the line, “Witness my tragic moment,” followed by an all-timer of a character exit, grabs attention for being more than solely padding for the film’s brief run time.
Outside of the sweet sentiments that it sends through its portrayal of female friendship, there’s not a lot more that makes audiences want to invest their time and money.
LIKE A BOSS opens on January 10.