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Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play lifelong friends who run a beauty company in Like a Boss.

Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures

  • Like a Boss
  • Directed by Miguel Arteta
  • Written by Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman
  • Starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek
  • Classification R
  • 83 min

rating

It has been a rough run for Tiffany Haddish fans these past two years. Since her critically acclaimed performance in Malcolm D. Lee’s raucous 2017 comedy Girls Trip, Haddish has had the misfortune of starring in several disappointing comic outings. From playing second fiddle to Kevin Hart in Lee’s lazily scripted Night School to teaming up with Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss in Andrea Berloff’s near-unwatchable, pseudo-feminist crime flick The Kitchen, it seems like Haddish just can’t catch a break.

It’s a common occurrence now for the Haddish hive to be sorely disappointed by the way in which the movies seem unable to engage with the actor’s talents in an original and – dare we even wish for it – above-average way. Despite the critical response to her voice work in a trio of animated sequels (The Lego Movie 2, The Secret Life of Pets 2, The Angry Birds Movie 2), we’ve yet to see her in a recent live-action role that doesn’t devolve into caricature or derivative versions of her character in Girls Trip.

Your weekly guide to the latest film reviews, including people-pleaser Just Mercy, shallow Underwater and simplistic Like a Boss

Director Miguel Arteta’s latest film, Like a Boss, both does and doesn’t continue this trend. Known for his more independent streak with films such as Duck Butter, Beatriz at Dinner and the underrated The Good Girl, Like a Boss sees Arteta team up once again with Beatriz star Salma Hayek for an uber-palatable late-night comedy that trades his previous character studies for vagina-birth cakes and cheesy karaoke performances.

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Haddish co-stars as Mel Paige, the creative brain behind indie cosmetic brand Mel & Mia, which she founded alongside life-long friend Mia Carter (Rose Byrne). Carter, the more fiscally pragmatic of the duo, has long dreamed of breakout success for their brand. When the two women are approached by industry titan Claire Luna (Hayek) – who offers to cover M&M’s near-half-million dollars of debt for a controlling share of their company – the best friends find their relationship at odds and their innovative products stolen by the cosmetics mogul.

Salma Hayek, left, plays industry titan Claire Luna, who offers to buy Mel & Mia.

Karen Ballard/Paramount Pictures

The best moments of Like a Boss are just that – moments. The film has an obvious deficit of story – instead of any sort of satisfying sense of development, the audience gets 83 minutes of the same problem repeated over and over. What works best is the comedy itself, which holds the plot together in a way not dissimilar to the boogeyman in The Nightmare Before Christmas – take away the film’s strongest jokes (“I know a lace front when I see one!”) and the whole film falls apart, laying bare the unfortunate simplicity of its insides.

In this sense, Haddish and Byrne are the core supports for a flimsy story. Both have more than proven their comic chops in films that have relied heavily on their improvisational and physical comedy skills. Byrne is a great foil to Haddish, having seemingly cemented herself as the unexpected comic everywoman of this late-night orbit in films such as Neighbors, Spy and, of course, Bridesmaids. Add to this the welcome, if wholly transparent, presence of cultural icon Billy Porter, the always solidly funny Natasha Rothwell and, in a winking continuation of her role in Legally Blonde, Jennifer Coolidge, and it seems that what Like a Boss has done best is amass a group of actors who are just plain fun to watch together onscreen.

Billy Porter is a welcome presence amid the film's likeable cast.

Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures

Beyond that, Like a Boss is an entertaining, if not average, popcorn flick that forwards the most basic conceptions of what we expect beauty to be – it’s 2020, let women cake their faces in foundation if they want to! The options it gives us are realism and “natural beauty,” à la the M&M brand (here, a false cultural shorthand for feminism and self-love) or artifice and misogyny (as represented by M&M’s rival brand, the male makeup duo who promote beauty as a performative action for an entitled male audience).

The ultimate irony here is that Like a Boss is a movie written and directed by men who seem to have no idea how to approach these ideas with any sort of depth. And with so much talent on hand, it seems a mighty waste to give them so little to work with.

Like a Boss opens Jan. 10.

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