Two childhood best friends own a beauty-care business which espouses extenuating your gifts rather than hiding your flaws. Their enterprise is in financial straits, until they’re approached by a conniving head of a makeup empire, Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) who tests their friendship. Miguel Arteta’s raunchy feel good buddy comedy Like a Boss gets some laughs but ultimately disintegrates in a cultural minefield.
Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play Mia and Mel, respectively. They do everything together: live, party, and smoke. Haddish reprises a similar character from Girls Trip: outlandish and over-the-top—while Rose plays her restrained buddy. In the face of their baby-laden rich girlfriends, the two single women look like failures. But they have each other and their business, until Claire Luna lends her assistance. Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge round out the cast as Mia and Mel’s eccentric but loyal employees.
Like a Boss features multiple standout performances. Haddish still finds gas in her well-driven persona while Byrne often hits as the awkward sometimes wallflower. Porter especially provides the most hilarious scene of the film, even as Hayek kills as a cut-throat business woman. Nevertheless, their components never coalesce in the tonally inconsistent comedy—switching from serious (Byrne is given a tragic backstory) to irreverent. These weaknesses overshadow an inspiring message of beauty not defined by men or society, but one based upon one’s individual features.
Arteta’s film further undercuts itself through using Hayek’s latinx heritage and accent as a punchline. I cringed whenever Hayek’s pronunciation of “Etsy” morphed into “Itzy” or “fierce” into “fierst” or “follow your juices” became a catchphrase—an odd misstep for the Puerto Rican-born Arteta. Moreover, Like a Boss carries itself as a Black story: from its title to the casting of Haddish and Porter—but really only masquerades under the banner.
Instead, the film espouses white feminism to the detriment of Haddish’s Mel. In several instances, Mia describes Mel as a bully or explains how she walks on eggshells around the boisterous friend. She gaslights her to Luna, using the same cliche descriptors employed upon other Black women. When the two become entangled in a serious blow-up, it’s Mel who promises to change. But why must Mel change? Why should she tone herself down in an effort to make Mia feel comfortable? The dynamic falls into a one-sided relationship, where Black women must acquiesce to the hopes and dreams of their white counterparts. Their unbalanced friendship took me out of the feel-good story completely, shadowing my eyes under its gaslighten soot.
Like a Boss could be a good uplifting film, a narrative about independence and beauty in the face of misunderstanding. Instead, it buckles and falls into the uglier portions of what’s inside. Much as Haddish, Byrne, Porter, Hayek, and Coolidge give entertaining performances, they’re only enough to salvage a solid if conflicting picture.