In a rare sighting of a genuine comedy (separate here from romantic comedies), it was easy to be excited for Like a Boss, the Tiffany Haddish- and Rose Byrne-centered buddy movie. With its all-star all women-led cast and obviously irreverent humor, there’s seemingly little not to like for a lighthearted start to the cinematic year. Leaving the theater — or even sooner, halfway through — it’s disappointing to realize how far this movie falls short of its promise.
What Like a Boss offers in its trailer comprises most of the laugh-out-loud moments of the film. When the best of them land quickly — familiar scenes front-loaded in the first act — there comes the audience question of “what’s left?” and the almost simultaneous realization that the rest is a mystery, and unlikely to be a good one. The result is a rather predictable, shallow movie about friendship that plays its genre by the numbers without offering anything new, heartfelt, or interesting.
Mia and Mel (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne, respectively) have been lifelong best friends, having gone to high school together, then college, then venturing out into adulthood where they turned their longtime makeup hustle into an actual business. They live together, work together, and are inseparable, much to the admiration and envy of the other women in their friend circle who have more successfully launched into the provincial stage of their lives in suburban Atlanta with houses, cars, and children. The inevitable tear in their friendship begins with the introduction of Claire (Salma Hayek) as a beauty industry mogul looking to buy their small company. Business-minded Mel and art-minded Mia have different ideas for their future, and Claire — seeing an opportunity — intends to take that tear and rip it apart.
The film’s laughs come from the raunchiness of Haddish balanced against the calm of Byrne, making the two an ideal complement. Byrne doesn’t have to do much to fulfill her role of the “normal” person from which Haddish’s antics can be highlighted, leaving her somewhat floating in space without weight to pull. And when her character does eventually “lose it” by matching Haddish’s verbal ferocity, it’s short-lived and underwhelms. Onscreen chemistry is at its most confusing when Hayek shares the scene, the dynamic being two comedians in Haddish and Hayek playing over-the-top eccentric and volatile people against one unremarkable personality unintentionally lost between the two of them.
Like a Boss works best in its one-liners and improv, where nearly every character has one they land well, like Billy Porter’s “witness my tragic moment” or Salma Hayek acknowledging that her breasts make her head look small. Several come from Natasha Rothwell (Insecure) and other actresses as peripheral best friends stealing the scene for a brief moment before passing the reins back to a thin plot. If physical comedy is your thing, the movie offers a little light violence here and vomit there, but too little to satisfy; and if insightful comedy is your thing, well, you’ve come to the wrong place. The script is its failing, taking talented comedians and having them make due with a thin plot and even thinner depth. With its theme of friendship and girl-boss power, most of the film is spent undermining the latter, portraying all of them in a not-so-great light with few redeeming characteristics outside of their friendship to each other. And with a generic conclusion, it does little to salvage the damage done. (If you were wondering, yes, Like a Boss was written by men.)
Ultimately, while there’s a dearth of true comedies coming from Hollywood these days, spare yourself the hope in Like a Boss. It’s not what you want it to be, unless what you want is low standards on overqualified talent. Its runtime is short, coming in at under 90 minutes, but this one feels long. Hopefully it’s not long in our memories.
Find all of Jordan Calhoun’s Rotten Tomatoes-approved movie reviews at Jordan Calhoun at the Movies.