Sunday, June 23, 2024

‘Like A Boss’ Needs New Management

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Like A Boss is a horror movie masquerading as a comedy. An eighty-minute movie that feels like an interminable voyage into the void. We squirm as we feel embarrassed for the actors onscreen.

Miguel Arteta’s film is a comedy with, admittedly, some laughs, but the laughs don’t stick. Like vapor, the laughs seem to vanish almost as quickly as they appear. There is no setup or follow through to the gags so they never fully land.

It is a movie about women written and directed entirely by men. This is not a new thing, men have been doing this since the inception of Hollywood. We’ve been doing it so long you would think we would get better at it but as Like A Boss shows us, we’re only getting worse.

The script by Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly is packed full of scenes that look good in a movie trailer. But when we see them in context we realize there is no context. Scenes are designed for maximum advertising effect but with no sinew to hold them together.

Arteta has wasted our time but worse he has squandered the time and talent of his cast. Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play Mia and Mel, respectively. Two women who live together and run a small cosmetics boutique. Haddish and Byrne have great chemistry but they are never allowed to play with it.

Like A Boss is far too busy trying to make us think something wacky is happening that it forgets to actually have something wacky happening. One scene has Mel and Mia climbing out onto the roof of their friend’s house and then jumping into the pool. Mel and Mia had just finished smoking a blunt but before they could leave the room their friends came up the stairs so the women rush about looking for a place to hide.

Why do they need to hide? Why do they jump into the pool? Because the scene would look good in trailers. There is no other reason, narratively or human, for them to do so.

Characters scream, shout, and run but with no rhyme or reason. It would be easy to say that Arteta and his writers have never met or talked to a woman, or if they have they did not pay attention. But after watching Like A Boss I’d go so far as to say they’ve never talked to another human being before.

Mel tells Mia that they are some half a million dollars in debt. She has been afraid to tell Mia because Mia sometimes makes it hard to tell her bad news. Plus Mel feels ashamed by the failure of their business. But Mia is curiously untroubled when she hears the news. She is angry because Mel didn’t tell her, which is fair. But she doesn’t seem to care they are in debt and in danger of losing the company to the bank.

Mia refuses to take any steps which would help the company, come up with ways to save money, or even change. Eventually, Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) comes along and offers to invest in their company in exchange for a controlling interest. Mel jumps at the chance but Mia is wary.

Hayek’s Claire is a character too big for the screen. Her Claire is reaching for high camp but the script doesn’t support her. Like a live-action cartoon she comes into Mel and Mia’s life and tries to tear them apart so she can steal their ideas and just because it amuses her. Arteta leaves Hayek out to dry as she flails, snarls, and struts about in her stilettos with nothing but sheer will to get her from one scene to the next. 

She’s not alone, everyone plays it broad and big. But Arteta hasn’t made a broad movie and the script doesn’t have enough meat in it to sustain the weight. More to the point Like A Boss has no joy in it for the larger than life characters to glom onto. 

Worse, the script seems to think there is a right way to be a woman and a wrong way to be a woman. Mel and Mia are the right way. They love make-up but don’t like going overboard with it. For them, it’s about bringing out the beauty within. Whereas Claire is the wrong type of woman. She wears “too much” makeup, shows off her figure and believes women only wear makeup to attract men or feel desirable. 

Like A Boss is one of those films about how to be a woman made by men; feminism viewed through the prism of a funhouse mirror. The image staring back at us a twisted darkly warped version of what it’s meant to be reflecting.  Arteta and his writers may mean well but they come off as the worst kind of preachy and boring.

Haddish and Byrne have both been great in other films but with no direction and no real character to play the two flounder about onscreen desperately trying to grab a syllable that might get a laugh. I am more convinced that Haddish and Byrne are friends than I am Mel and Mia are.

Hayek is clearly having a ball. She slinks and poses, twirling her golf club like a riding crop, as she aims for the bitchiest bitch she can be. Like something from the pages of a Gore Vidal or a Jacqueline Susann novel, nothing about Claire Luna is real. But everything about her is fascinating if only because she relishes it. Yet, since the film is without any real aim except to say “too much makeup is bad” it instead makes us wish she was a different movie. If only so we could be watching that movie instead of Like A Boss.

Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge play Mel and Mia’s co-workers and have the Sisyphean task of trying to turn jokes that are not jokes into something funny. Because they are talented and because they are professional they succeed some of the time. The scene where Mel and Mia fire Porter’s character, Barrett, is one of the few humorous highlights. 

Natasha Rothwell, despite the hurdle of being in this movie, manages to be delightful and funny in every scene she’s in. She plays Jill, an old friend of Mel and Mia’s, and is a new mother with almost no filter. Unlike almost every other character in this movie, Rothwell’s feels the most believable and least forced. If it weren’t for Rothwell Like A Boss would have far fewer laughs; which it has precious few to spare as is.

Like A Boss is a movie where I left, not angry but sad. Sad at the loss of opportunity for what might have been and waste of obvious talent. No one makes a bad movie intentionally but just because they didn’t mean to doesn’t make it any better.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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