Synopsis: Best friends Mia and Mel run their own cosmetics company — a business they built from the ground up. But they’re also in over their heads financially, and the prospect of a buyout offer from an industry titan proves too tempting to pass up.
Stars: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek, Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, Karan Soni, Ari Graynor, Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell
Director: Miguel Arteta
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I always get a little nervous when I rip off the December 31 page on my calendar and see that I’ve come to the end of another year. It’s not because of any resolutions I’ve made or due to price increases on insurance/rent/medical benefits/you name it, no, it’s something else entirely. I know that when January 1 rolls around the movie landscape changes from studios trying hard to push out their best products for award consideration to their driving their dump trucks straight into your local theater. It’s long been known that the first few months of the year are a good time to get rid of movies that could have issues or ones the executives have little faith in. Maybe a film has been sitting on the shelf for several months and there’s a perfect weekend in January when nothing else like it is coming out (I’m looking at you, Dolittle), perhaps the end of the year holiday schedule was just too busy and they couldn’t wait for summer so why not let ‘er rip now (Bad Boys for Life)…you get the picture.
In the last few years, though, there has been an interesting turning of the tides and not every movie released in the first several weeks of the year are those surefire turkeys. The barren wasteland of January has started to find some green and the studio heads have caught on that a tidy profit can be made with the right marketing and a keen sense of counter-programming. That had to be the thinking behind getting the new raunchy comedy Like a Boss in position to open against big-time Oscar favorite 1917 during its opening weekend. Made for ¼ of the budget of that wartime epic, this 83 minute (well, 79-ish without credits) comedy is a surprisingly pleasing bit of drop-in entertainment that succeeds on the merits of its appealing stars.
Mel (Rose Byrne, Spy) and Mia (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip) are life-long friends, roommates, and business partners. Not a lot has come between them over the years and they’ve parlayed their yin/yang relationship into a marginally successful cosmetics company. Mel is the more corporate focused of the two, with Mia contributing to the creative aspects, though both are shown to be well-informed business women that do their homework when it comes to where their money is going and who is controlling it. In their late 30’s but living life like they’re still in their early 20’s, their friends wish they’d settle down even if that means spending less time together outside of work.
Just as Mel is about to tell Mia their business is suffering a cash flow problem, a messenger from the multi-million dollar Claire Luna industry (Karan Soni, Pokémon Detective Pikachu) arrives and lets the women know Claire has been following their business and wants to own a piece of their company. Mel is ecstatic, seeing this as the miracle solution they needed while Mia is wary of the quirky Claire getting into bed with the dynamic duo. Turns out she should be worried because Claire (Salma Hayek, Savages) has her eyes on more than just a piece of Mel and Mia…and she’ll resort to dirty tricks to get what she wants.
If this all sounds like the set-up for a ABC sitcom or a rejected sequel to Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (and there’s another connection to that movie in here as well) then I don’t think you’d be too far off the mark. There’s little meat to the plot bones but the script by relative newcomers Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly is fast paced and amusing. I’ll get back to the three leads but in addition to them, the supporting players are all aces. Jennifer Coolidge (Austenland) and scene-stealing Billy Porter as employees of the ladies are put to good use, delivering some silly one-liners but not overstaying their screen welcome. I also enjoyed a trio of wedded gal pal confidants for the ladies played by Jessica St. Clair (Wanderlust), Ari Graynor (The Guilt Trip), and Natasha Rothwell (Love, Simon) who are there to listen and respond, and blessedly aren’t armed with a repulsive anecdote about married life. Usually these domesticated female characters are there to show what frigid harpies they’ve become since getting hitched but thankfully the script allows them to be genuine. Credit also to the screenwriters as well for not pushing a front and center love interest – it would have been so easy to complicate things by giving one of the women a boyfriend from one of the rival beauty companies Claire handles but that would just shift the focus from the central friendship and make the movie longer in the process.
The movie is about our lead trio though and director Miguel Arteta (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) brings out some interesting sides to each. We all know Haddish can navigate her way around a punchline and a litany of filthy jokes (if you can make it through the first five minutes of the movie you’ll be fine) but Arteta doesn’t just let her stay in that wacky zone forever. She has several serious moments that believably resonate and it fits her well. I’ve always gotten the impression that Byrne has a penchant for these kind of comedic roles and she looks to be having fun with her time in Like a Boss. She gets to sing, dance, and battle a drone…though I do wish she wasn’t again cast as the more unlikeable person of a duo.
The sheer reason to see the movie, however, is for Hayek’s bonkers turn as Claire Luna. In a flame colored wig (the end of which I could often see coming up off her forehead, incidentally), brassy contacts, and stuffed into a mélange of tight clothes and sky high shoes Hayek bulldozes through each scene she’s in and I can’t tell if it’s terrible or brilliant but I know I loved it. It’s one of those bold character choices only an actress completely confident and without a shred of doubt in her work could make and Hayek has shown over and over again she’s that kind of actress. Just watch the way she interacts with each person and piece of scenery throughout — this is someone that has truly thought about what she’s bringing to the set. It’s an unpredictable delight.
It’s easy to find the things to pick apart in the film and I admit I thought I’d come out on the other side of seeing Like a Boss with a list of things about it I didn’t care for. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed myself, though, because it felt like a nice palate cleanser from the last few months, which is exactly what I think it was intended as. It’s certainly not the best work any of these actors will do nor will it make any kind of best (or worst) list when we rip off that December 31 page of 2020 but for what it is and where we are now, it gets the job done.