It’s never good when you can figure out exactly what will happen in a movie — from the conflict to the pat resolution — within the first 15 minutes. But director Miguel Arteta’s new friendship comedy “Like a Boss” is just like that.
Aside from the charming chemistry between leads Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne, the film is a mostly forgettable romp that throws together recycled themes of female entrepreneurship, friendship, and rivalry without making any real impact. It’s a shame, too, because Byrne gets to revive some of her great comedic timing from “Bridesmaids” and goes toe-to-toe with Haddish’s larger-than-life personality; it’s no easy feat, but Byrne nails it. You can tell the two are having fun together, but the movie itself is way too basic to become truly enjoyable.
The plot kicks off with Mel (Byrne) and Mia (Haddish), two business partners being crushed by debt with their eponymous makeup company, which boasts simple applications to bring out women’s inner beauty. Needless to say, that motif is grossly overshadowed by the major lines that take pride in the transformative effect of makeup, including those marketed by the conglomerate run by beauty titan Claire Luna (Salma Hayek). More on her later.
Arteta (“Beatriz at Dinner”), with screenwriters Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly (“Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television”), spends much of the film highlighting Mia and Mel’s relationship, though we just graze the surface of it. The filmmakers establish that the two are essentially opposites, like so many comedy duos on screen: Mia is the brash, sex-positive, fun-loving one, while Mel is more cautious and business-oriented. They met in middle school and have been living together for years, since Mia’s family took in Mel, whose mother was (and apparently still is) a meth addict. Later, they started their business together. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
But of course, since they’re both single with their own business, they are the outliers of all their pregnant, mommy friends and feel the need to prove that they too are properly adulting. Except that in order to get through one of their friend’s baby showers, they must sneak away to light a blunt that then falls into a baby’s crib.
Though Haddish and Byrne are great at riffing off each other to escalate some of the ridiculous things that happen in the plot, it would have behooved the writers to delve more deeply into Mia and Mel’s friendship to ground what at least Mel hopes to be a power move — selling 51% of their company to Claire to increase profits and pay off their debt. You know, so they can still be the cool 30-somethings who are doing their own thing — like a boss (a phrase that is shockingly never uttered throughout the entire film).
The nuance of their friendship is key; it not only helps to build their characters, but it also provides further insight on the eventual division that will threaten both their friendship and their business. But we get significant revelations only when their conflict, manipulated by a conniving Claire, reaches a fever pitch. Mel claims she’s been feeling the burden of paying Mia back after she and her family welcomed her into their home, which also led to Mel enabling Mia to be careless about their finances while Mel always cleans up the mess.
It points to facts that undercut the very title of the movie: Mel is a pushover who can’t vocalize her concerns, while Mia doesn’t know a thing about money and has no interest in earning a profit (or, as she calls it, “selling out”). That doesn’t make either of them bosses. So, when Claire enters the picture — in the form of a dramatically self-involved Hayek as a fashion-forward, Cruella De Vil-type villain, who hates women who can get along with each other instead of Dalmatians — it takes little effort for her to sink their business and endanger their friendship.
Though Claire’s characterization is silly and over-the-top, Hayek makes it work as best she can, even when Mel and Mia miraculously figure out how to turn the tables on Claire, and Hayek must feign crumbling under her own foibles. There’s a lot of physical comedy on deck here, some that even bears a striking resemblance to Haddish’s antics in “Girls Trip.” Only some of it lands quite nicely; other moments just seem cheesy and cartoonish.
Paper-thin plot aside, “Like a Boss” has pretty stellar production design by Theresa Guleserian (“Neighbors 2”), which is filled with warm and colorful tones and accent pieces to match the protagonists’ creative vision. That attention to detail carries over to the fun costumes by Sekinah Brown (“What Men Want”), which provide a distinction between the two leads (Mel’s funky, mismatched attire shows off her confidence, while Mia is hardly ever seen without a monochromatic sweater over a buttoned-down shirt).
“Like a Boss” is vibrant and sometimes funny, but rarely heartfelt and entirely stale. While it hits a few sentimental notes, the film’s failure to delve into the friendship it celebrates, or to say anything significant about women’s relationships in business, ultimately hampers it.