Originating from the mind of Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (My Name Is Earl, Whitney) and featuring the direction of Miquel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner, Duck Butter) comes Like A Boss, a love story about friendship, loyalty, and faith centered around two lifelong friends and business partners, Mia Carter (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel Paige (Rose Byrne). The premise is simple: Mia and Mel are up-and-comers in the cosmetic world, but their debt is on the verge of shutting them down. Their ideas for colors, composition, and packaging are ingenious, they just aren’t bringing in enough traffic to justify the overhead. Out of nowhere, hope appears in the form of fierce and demanding Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), offering financial help at a cost: a large stake in the company. As soon as the ink touches paper, Claire immediately starts pushing the duo, creating a wedge that only true friendship can survive.
There’s little about Like A Boss that’s likely to surprise or astonish. It’s not a period drama, world-ending blockbuster, or prestige picture. It’s a comedy featuring one of the hottest comedians on the market (Haddish) alongside a natural straightwoman with impeccable comedic timing (Byrne) in a fictional contest of who can rule the screen harder with one of the most versatile actors of a generation (Hayek). In short: you buy a ticket to Like A Boss and this cast is going to bring it. Wonderfully, rather than seeking to create comedy by denigrating or humiliating any of the characters, the narrative created by writers Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly (both of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television) focuses on the situations themselves as a nesting point for comedy. There’re two moments in the trailers which typify this wonderfully: the pre-birth cake made for a friend and Mia’s unfortunate encounter with a ghost pepper. In the former, the cake itself causes a horrified reaction from Mia and Mel regarding the details of the cake: plastic head bursting forth from the top, bloodlike liquid billowing underneath, chocolate sprinkles as pubic hair, and a small bit of chocolate mousse underneath to represent…well…you get the idea. The panic Haddish and Bryne convey is a fairly natural response to something you’ve never witnessed, whereas their friends, played by Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell, and Ari Graynor, have a more subdued, appreciative reaction to the details, suggestive of individuals more familiar with the process. In this sequence, the shock for the audience comes from the cake and the hilarity from the obversed reactions. Even as the conversation carries on to aspects of childbirth and childrearing, it’s all casual and fairly typical, with only a few notes of judgement toward Mia and Mel. Initially this appears to serve as a hit toward Mia and Mel’s feminine power that they don’t have children; yet, as the film progresses, the true intent of the comments is revealed, belying a more natural and intuitive reason for the internal contention within the group of friends. Later on, at a group dinner, Mia accidentally eats too much ghost pepper and the friends’ reactions are as priceless comedically as they are realistic to how old friends talk to each other in a crisis.
This specific aspect is where Like A Boss succeeds the most. For all its expected hilarity (given the cast) and dramatic turns (given the genre), where Boss gets and maintains its emotional hold on the audience is in the authentic depiction of tried-and-true friendship. It certainly helps that Haddish and Byrne are an exceptional team, making the supposition that the two have been friends over twenty years entirely believable. Some of this comes from the writing by Pitman and Cole-Kelly, absolutely, but it’s the delivery from Haddish and Byrne that make it so damn honest. As an audience, you can’t help but cheer for them in their success, laugh with them at their accidental hilarity, and mourn for them when Claire gets the upper-hand. Even the supporting characters played by St. Clair, Rothwell, Graynor, Billy Porter, and Jennifer Coolidge possess an incredible genuineness so that their sometimes-stereotypical reactions or responses (especially from the comically pigeonholed Coolidge) present as though the characters are in on the jokes rather than subjects of them. This comes from an intimacy born out of the fires of time. By capturing the essence of friendship, Like A Boss never loses hold of its emotional core and, in so doing, never loses the audience. A little bit of research shows that several members of the cast have worked with members of the crew in the past (Areta with Hayek on Beatriz, for instance), which does imply a certain innate comfort that comes from familiarity and already-instilled trust, all of which shows on screen.
Forget any notion you might hear that Like A Boss is a girls’ night out film or a date night film. It’s a friend film. New friends, old friends, casual friends, longtime friends, you will see yourself somewhere, somehow represented in the characters or the narrative. For those concerned about the focus on cosmetics, either due to personal ignorance or a concern of gender biases, within the narrative, the film itself isn’t focused on that aspect as a catalyst or key element so much as it’s the thing from which Mia and Mel’s bond sprung. In fact, if I were to describe Like A Boss in simple terms, it’s a celebration of the bonds we share with the family we choose. It’s not perfect and it possesses flaws, but best friends are the ones who appreciate it all.
In theaters January 10th, 2020.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.