January 10, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Culture Representation: Taking place in Atlanta and centered on the beauty industry, the comedy “Like a Boss” has a racially diverse cast that includes representation of white people, African Americans, Latinos and Asians in the middle and upper classes.
Culture Clash: Pandering to the worst stereotypes of women, the plot of “Like a Boss” is basically about a corporate catfight.
Culture Audience: “Like a Boss” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless comedies that sink to low and crude levels.
If you were someone who sat through the excruciatingly dumb trailer of “Like a Boss” as it played during previews of a movie you saw in a theater, you might have seen from the repulsed reactions of people in the audience that this movie was not only a turn-off but it was also going to be a flop. “Like a Boss” tries to pass itself off as a raunchy feminist film, but in the end, the movie (written and directed by men) treats women like trash by presenting them as clueless about business and being at their cruelest to other women. “Like a Boss” director Miguel Arteta and screenwriters Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman should be embarrassed about putting this crap into the world, because it shows how inept they are at making a female-centric comedy.
The plot centers on entrepreneurs Mel Paige (played by Rose Byrne) and Mia Carter (played by Tiffany Haddish), two best friends since childhood who have an Atlanta store that sells their own brand of beauty products called M&M. Mel handles the financial matters of the business, while Mia handles the creative aspects. On the surface, things seem to be going well, but Mel is hiding a secret that she eventually confesses to Mia: their company is $493,000 in debt. (This isn’t a spoiler, since the confession is in the movie’s trailers. And if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve basically seen what could be called the best parts of this bad movie.) It doesn’t help the company’s finances that Mia likes to give deep discounts to customers for random reasons.
However, M&M is making enough sales to attract the attention of corporate shark Claire Luna (played by Salma Hayek), the owner of the successful beauty corporation Ovieda that’s supposed to be a market leader. The writers of this movie clearly don’t know that the biggest U.S.-based beauty companies in America are actually headquartered in New York or Los Angeles, but maybe the filmmakers got financial incentives from Atlanta to have this cheap-looking movie take place there.
Claire swoops in to make an offer to buy 51% of M&M and pay off all the company’s debts. Mel wants to do the deal, but Mia is reluctant because it would break Mel and Mia’s pact to never sell the business. Mia, who is more street-smart than Mel, also senses that Claire can’t be trusted. However, Mel is desperate to erase the company’s debts, and argues with Mia that the sale would be good for the company.
After Claire observes the tension that the proposed deal is causing between the two longtime friends, Claire offers to buy 49% of the company on the condition that if either Mel or Mia leaves the company, Claire will get 51% ownership of the business. Of course, in a movie as stupid and unrealistic as this one, not only do Mel and Mia cave in to Claire’s demands that they make their decision in one day, but they also sign the deal in Claire’s office without any attorneys involved.
As a further insult to women, the screenwriters came up with the catty motivation that Claire targeted Mel and Mia for a takeover because she’s jealous of their close friendship and wants the deal to break up Mel and Mia. It turns out that Claire started Ovieda with her longtime best friend, whom Claire ended up firing because Claire is basically a greedy you-know-what. Claire wants to split up Mel and Mia because Claire failed at working with her best friend, so Claire can’t stand to see two female best friends work well together as business partners. In other words, Claire isn’t thinking like a real business person but is thinking like a petty high schooler. If this corporate raider were a man, there’s no way the filmmakers would come up with this moronic motivation to take over a company.
But the cattiness doesn’t stop there in “Like a Boss.” Mel and Mia have a circle of bourgeois “frenemies”—Kim, Jill and Angela (played by Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell and Ari Graynor)—mostly married mothers who apparently look down on the unmarried and childless Mel and Mia, who still live like college students. Mel and Mia are roommates who regularly smoke pot and have meaningless flings with boy toys. Meanwhile, Mel and Mia are convinced that their own lifestyles are better than their domesticated friends because Mel and Mia don’t have the responsibilities of husbands and children. Mel and Mia and their “Real Housewives”-type friends spend almost all of their scenes together trying to outdo and impress each other instead of genuinely having fun together as real friends do.
There’s also an unnecessary subplot where Claire pits Mia and Mel against two sexist men named Greg (played by Ryan Hansen) and Ron (played by Jimmy O. Yang), who have their own beauty company that’s competing with M&M for the millions being offered by Claire in the acquisition deal. Greg and Ron are portrayed as dorks who think they’re “woke,” but they’re really dismissive of their customers’ needs. They see beauty products as a way to exploit customers’ insecurities about their looks instead of enhancing natural beauty, and so their company uses a lot of cringeworthy marketing techniques that reflect this condescending attitude.
“Like a Boss” is polluted with some not-very-funny slapstick moments and an annoying fixation on telling jokes about women’s private parts every 10 minutes. There are cheesy Lifetime movies that are better than “Like a Boss,” which certainly isn’t worth spending any money to see. Byrne is capable of doing better work in comedies (as evidenced by “Bridesmaids” and “Neighbors”), but in “Like a Boss,” her Mel character is such a one-dimensional, uptight neurotic that there’s no room for any nuanced complexities.
Haddish continues to put herself in Typecast Hell as the foul-mouthed, quick-tempered, loud caricature that she keeps doing in every movie she’s done since her breakout in 2017’s “Girls Trip,” which is still her best film. Even though her Mia character in “Like a Boss” is college-educated, Mia is an unsophisticated mess. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who have little or no contact with black women, and they get their ideas and stereotypes of black women from what they see on screen. Fortunately, we have versatile and intelligent actresses like Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Lupita Nyong’o to offset the damaging, negative stereotypes of black women that Haddish continues to perpetuate in her choice of roles.
“Like a Boss” also has some Hispanic racial stereotyping, since Claire makes Mel and Mia do some salsa-like dance moves with her in the office while Mexican music suddenly plays in the background. (Hayek is Mexican, in case you didn’t know.) There’s also a running gag that Claire can’t speak proper English because she’s constantly mispronouncing and fabricating English words. The not-so-subtle message the filmmakers are conveying is that Latino immigrants who are successful in American business still aren’t smart enough to master the English language. Just because “Like a Boss” director Arteta is also Latino doesn’t excuse this awful stereotyping.
Meanwhile, Hayek and Billy Porter (who plays the sassy Barrett, an openly gay employee of Mel and Mia) have the talent to be doing Oscar-caliber work. Instead, they are slumming it in this garbage movie. Supporting characters that could have been interesting are instead poorly written knock-offs that have been seen countless times before in other movies. Jennifer Coolidge plays the ditzy blonde (Sydney, an employee of Mel and Mia), while Karan Soni plays the villain’s smarmy lackey (Josh, who is Claire’s assistant).
“Like a Boss” is supposed to be a comedy about female empowerment in corporate America, but instead this movie has a very ghetto, misogynistic mindset that belongs in the same trash pile as a bunch of toxic and outdated cosmetics products.
Paramount Pictures released “Like a Boss” in U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020.