Star Rating:

Like a Boss

Director: Miguel Arteta

Release Date: Friday 21st February 2020

Genre(s): Comedy

Running time: 83 minutes

'Like a Boss' has a cute message but rings hollow and the jokes just don't land

Life-long BFFs Mia (Byrne) and Mel (Haddish) run a promising, but under-resourced, cosmetics company together. Enter famed beauty entrepreneur, Claire Luna (Hayek), who makes a too-good-to-be-true partnership offer, which involves eliminating their debts and scaling up production. Divided over how to proceed, Mia and Mel's clashing ideas about the future of their business could see them lose everything – including their friendship.

If there is anything commendable about 'Like a Boss' – and there is, truly, not much – it's that it is a Hollywood studio comedy film about two career-focused 40-year-old women, where friendship and work are what’s at stake. If nothing else, it's refreshing to see a film reflect an ever-larger audience of older women who are less concerned with the traditional fixings of domesticity, motherhood and romantic partnership as a metric of accomplishment. The duo's focus on 'enhancing' natural female beauty for an individual's own self-esteem, rather than 'creating' it for the benefit of others, is also a cute message, if one that rings a little hollow, given that it is still being used to sell makeup.

Unfortunately, despite these good intentions, ‘Like a Boss’ is extremely light on laughs and profoundly wastes the assembled talent. The issue may have arisen somewhere between script and screen. Director Miguel Arteta made his name with low-key middle-America slice-of-life flicks like 'Youth in Revolt,' 'Cedar Rapids', and 'The Good Girl', and perhaps on paper, this film fit more with his sensibilities. However, with a cast of this comedic calibre, audiences are bound to bring different expectations to the table and the prevailing sense is that neither Byrne nor Haddish, two very funny women, have been given the chance to make the material their own. Not only that, but neither is even doing anything more dramatically hefty than usual, which might have at least made toning down their talent for physical comedy worthwhile.

The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better. Jennifer Coolidge and Billy Porter, playing beauty shop assistants, bring a desperate, hysterical energy to their scenes which stands out in all the wrong ways. A brief appearance from Ryan Hansen and Jimmy Yang as the bro-runners of a rival company feels similarly out-of-place; while Salma Hayek, who should be in her element as an over-the-top, nightmarish Girl Boss, is reduced to gags about her appearance and use of a prop golf club her character carries everywhere.

Content aside, the film is oddly cut and paced, with comedy set-pieces frequently not being given enough time for the gags to land. A very strange scene in a karaoke bar, where Mia tries to convince Mel to take Claire’s deal feels rushed, feels as if the editor was too embarrassed by the film’s own cringe comedy to continue it a moment longer than necessary; while a scene in which Mia and Mel have to hide after smoking weed in a baby’s room also loses focus on what or where the comedy lies. The fact that this scene drags out a little too long too, when the film is only a scant 84 minutes long, speaks to greater structural issues that plague ‘Like a Boss’ throughout.

Caught between an earnest exploration of female friendship and career conflict, and the zany studio comedy its casting suggests, ‘Like a Boss’ simply doesn't work.