A bumpy start for 2020’s first chick flick, Like a Boss is the latest offering from Youth in Revolt (2009)’s director Miguel Arteta. Like a Boss tells the story of small business owners Mel & Mia (played by Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish respectively) who must battle it out with cosmetics titan Claire Luna (played by a slightly altered, larger-than-life Salma Hayek) to regain ownership of their company. With a script penned by Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly, Like a Boss was not the film it wanted to be but puts in a fair effort nonetheless for the sake of its core messages.
Best friends since middle school, Mel and Mia own a small cosmetics company that, despite its initial success, is now barely keeping them afloat. Polar opposites in personality – Mia is loud, brash, and extremely carefree where Mel is more anxious, shy, and impressionable – the two women spend their entire lives together in a more or less harmonious co-dependency. Sharing a house and a business, they have a knack for bringing out each other’s best and worst qualities, which serves to be a key driver for Arteta’s comedy.
Byrne and Haddish riff well off each other, whether they’re throwing snide barbs or having a casual conversation about their Barack Obama sex dreams. Byrne’s more subtle comedic style holds up reasonably well against Haddish’s ‘knock-em-in-the-face’ style. Having acted alongside other comedy icons like Seth Rogen, Russell Brand, and Melissa McCarthy, it would be easy to fall into the trap of believing that Byrne’s talent is swallowed here by Haddish, or even side players Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge who shine brilliantly as the Mel & Mia store staff, but don’t be fooled; it’s the little things about Mel – her constant nervousness, her need to please everybody – that make her such an enjoyable and funny character to watch on-screen.
Haddish, on the other hand, seems to be more or less playing the same type of character we saw in 2017’s Girls Trip. While not as refreshing as her role in The Kitchen, this works for her in the context of this film and had anyone else been cast in the role, the whole character would have felt off. The more outwardly vibrant of our lead pair, Haddish throws out some great one-liners (“That dick was presidential”, “We’re two badass queens, like those bitches who raised Wonder Woman”) to spice up the dialogue and takes on most of the physical comedy for the film’s key moments.
Supported by Hayak as the main antagonist, her carrot-orange wig and prosthetic teeth do little to distract from this character’s inherent flaws or the fact that the scenes with her seem to rely a little too heavily on Hayak’s accent for laughs. Her character’s motivation is flimsy at best, not fully being revealed until the tail end, and there are moments shared between Luna and her assistant Josh (played by Karan Soni, known more prominently for his role as Deadpool’s favourite taxi driver Dopinder) where a more obvious plot or sinister takeover plan reveal could have benefitted the script more. We are given very little background on Luna except for the fact that she once had a partner known as Shay who only appears on screen for less than a minute thanks to a cameo from Lisa Kudrow. Sadly this makes Shay a wasted character who could have easily made the plot more interesting had she been used better and to help showcase Hayak’s full potential.
In terms of the core message trying to be relayed here, the importance of female friendships and female support networks is not lost here. The strength of Mel and Mia’s friendship, and by extension the friendships of periphery characters throughout, is not due to them having been friends for so long, but because they have been an integral part of each other’s lives; sharing joy and pain, sadness and mischief, and developing a strong and fulfilling ecosystem that thrives even when times are difficult.
But for all that Pitman and Cole-Kelly have captured within the body of their work, there is still something fundamental missing, and that is direct involvement by women in the writing process. Unlike 2011’s smash hit Bridesmaids (which also starred Byrne), Like a Boss features significantly less women in key crew positions that may have helped turn some of the cheap jokes into genuine comedy worthy of gut busting laughter. While not likely to become an especially memorable entry in the genre, Like a Boss is at the very least enjoyable with a heartwarming pay-off that will remind gal pals in the audience that burdens and successes are only worth something when you have someone to share them with.