Released: 23rd January
Seen: 2nd February
The phrase ‘like a boss’ dates back to 1993 when rapper Ice Cube wrote the lyric into his song “Really Doe”, using the phrase to imply that something was being done with confidence. The lyrics “Out like a boss, with a half-pint of sauce” would create a phrase that would continue to be copied by rappers for years, until a bunch of white guys put it in a comedy song on a Saturday night program and the phrase ballooned in popularity because that’s what tends to happen when something originates in black culture and then the white people appropriate it. Now the phrase is so ubiquitous that it’s printed on mugs sold to bored people in discount stores who want to believe that one day they’ll actually be the boss when the reality is that they’ll probably be a worker drone until the day they die of liver failure from all the vodka they secretly slipped into their like a boss mug… I know, morbid and pointless opening, you try thinking of a way to open up a review on a movie like this. It’s either talk about the origin of the phrase that makes up the title or discuss various brands of paint that I’d like to see drying, pick one.
Like A Boss follows Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) who have been friends since childhood and now own their own makeup company that’s imaginatively named Mel & Mia’s. As tends to happen in these kinds of movies, the pair of them have run into a spot of financial trouble and are desperate to find a way out of it. By coincidence (literally, it’s just a coincidence), the makeup mogul Clair Luna (Salma Hayek) has noticed one of their products and decided to try and buy the company. This leads to a series of things we have decided to call shenanigans and what I believe is an attempt at conflict, all while we wait patiently for one of the four big personalities to do something that might resemble comedy.
So, this film isn’t good. You knew that already, you saw the trailer and the poster and went “Oh, I’ve seen 14 versions of this movie playing on Lifetime and I don’t need the big screen version” and you would be right. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen done better by other people. The plot is so standard that it’s almost impressive, from “Bad communication between friends leads to an argument that lasts for the length of a montage” to “DANCE PARTY FINALE”. The entire conflict is based around the idea that Claire is playing Mel and Mia against each other which could be interesting except she’s barely doing anything. She’s not doing some kind of espionage, she’s not sneaking into their lab and messing with the product, she’s not doing anything other than just existing and poking at the friendship lightly with the tip of her flawlessly manicured fingernail.
At no point during the movie is there anything actually resembling stakes. No one’s going to lose a company or go broke or anything like that. The whole “Our store is in debt thing” is resolved the second that Claire gets Mel and Mia to sign a contract. Sure, there’s a clause that would give Clair 51% of the company but you know what that means? Claire gets all the responsibility and risk while Mel & Mia still get paid 49% of whatever is made (which is literally pointed out right near the end because the film is aware of how pathetic this is. They aren’t going to lose their house, the business isn’t going to be shut down, they aren’t going to have their lives ruined… they’re going to make a lot of money that they wouldn’t have made before Claire. The ultimate problem is that they may have to act like actual business owners under a capitalist system… oh no, sound the alarm, the bad guy is capitalism. Let me get the Kleenex.
You almost want the film to push things into a more cartoonish place, they almost get there on the few occasions when the script is actually working. Early scenes where Mia and Mel are smoking weed, only to find there’s a baby in the same room actually have some comedic charm to them and it keeps being elevated until Mia is pulling out her weave and jumping into a pool. It’s a funny sequence that’s just over the top enough to bring out some good performances, but it’s one of a scant few times they push things to the place this needed to work. I shouldn’t be getting more entertainment value from a makeup tutorial on YouTube than I get from your film about powerful women in the makeup industry. Push it further, have fun with the idea, write more jokes that would work on their own instead of just relying on the cast.
If I’m being blunt, the only reason this film is even watchable is that someone decided to gift it with my dream comedy cast. Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek, Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge is the kind of casting that one could only wish for. All of them have expert timing, know how to deliver a line and aren’t afraid to chew on some scenery if needed in order to make the jokes land. They’re all barely kept in line by Rose Byrne who basically has to take on the straight role because no one else was going to even try to hold down that part. They all are good performers, they have chemistry and when they show off their personalities they can actually get some laughs. Billy Porter doing a dramatic exit is hilarious, the reason you hire Billy Porter is that he will give you a dramatic entrance or exit… but then I realised that I was thinking “Oh, Billy Porter’s dramatic exit is funny” and completely forgot his character name. I don’t even feel like writing his character name here, I don’t care about his character, I don’t care about Mel or Mia or Claire. I care about these actors who I have enjoyed in several other roles who are doing the thing they do best, without any help from the writer or the director who are both horribly unprepared for the world of moviemaking.
The director of this film spends most of his time working in TV and oh boy does it show. There’s no personality in this film, there’s no life in the shots. It’s filmed as though the director has been told a few thousand times to just get the damn project done within a week and to not put any of his ideas on screen. A TV director needs to blend in so no one can tell who is directing which episodes, but this is a film and you might want to actually try having a personality. Do some fun stylistic shots, come up with some angles, pick a pop song other than Proud Mary for the inevitable dance sequence, SOMETHING. Give me something from outside of the main actors to latch onto because as it is, this film may as well have been directed by a computer program that was told “Make a generic comedy that moms will rent on VHS from Blockbuster”, that’s roughly how old this feels.
Like A Boss needs to be fired, it’s bad at its job and is scraping by on pure good will. You might laugh because the actors have enough personality to make what they’ve been given somewhat palatable… but you won’t be quoting it. You won’t remember it that long after you’ve seen it. This is a TV movie that’s somehow on a big screen. I’m happy that it probably bought all the main actors a nice new car but the entire thing is a wash of mediocrity. Look, if you want to watch a bunch of people talking about makeup and actually being interesting, just do what I should’ve done and wait until the end of the month when RuPaul’s Drag Race airs and get a bunch of queens with big personalities to talk about makeup. At least that’s funny on purpose.