'Like a Boss': Film Review

An undercooked script, redeemed to some extent by the leads' comedic chemistry.

Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish play business partners threatened by a cosmetics titan (Salma Hayek) in Miguel Arteta's comedy.

Two besties who have always been able to mix business and friendship finally see their bond threatened in Miguel Arteta's Like a Boss, a lightweight but often likeable comedy setting the unexpectedly well-matched Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish up against a brassy Salma Hayek.

Having earned some praise for her performance in Arteta's Beatriz at Dinner, Hayek is a letdown here, steered toward broad villainy and cartoonish physicality that exist in a world apart from the credible sharpness of her co-stars. Quite funny for much of its running time, the film feels like it simply runs out of steam in its third act, settling for a lazy, pandering resolution and seeming happy to have made it to the 83-minute finish line. Those who have marveled at Haddish and Byrne in some of their previous supporting roles are left waiting for each to get a bona-fide starring vehicle, but this team-up gives each more room to shine than usual.

Mia (Haddish) and Mel (Byrne) have been inseparable since middle school, the latter being taken in by Mia's family when her mother ran afoul of the law. Now housemates, they run a small but well-liked cosmetics shop that bears their names. They mix their own formulas, package them into gimmicky gift packs like a "One-Night Stand Kit" (a hit, we're told) and employ two of the kind of colorful characters typically seen only in rom-coms: Haughty Barrett, played to the hilt by Emmy-winning Pose star Billy Porter; and Jennifer Coolidge's Sydney, whose dialogue strains for the kind of outrageous cluelessness Coolidge has specialized in for 20 years.

Mia's the creative one; Mel keeps the books in order. Or tries to: She's been protecting Mia from the knowledge that their business is nearly half a million dollars in debt, and something needs to change soon. Enter Josh (Karan Soni), the snippy yes-man to makeup magnate Claire Luna (Hayek). Josh summons the partners to a meeting, where Luna offers to pay all their debts in return for a 51 percent stake in the business. When Mia balks at selling what the two have built, they settle on a compromise: Luna will take 49 percent, only getting a majority in the unlikely event — how could such a thing ever happen?! — that Mia and Mel end their partnership. Before the women are even in the parking lot, the viperish Luna is plotting ways to make them hate each other.

She does that by wowing Mel with her business acumen (Mia couldn't be less impressed) and forcing the partners to doubt their values. When M&M come up with a new line whose marketing will revolve around supportive friendships and inner beauty, Luna insists they focus on what their industry is really about: "Inspire the ugly people to buy their way into gorgeousness." By way of example, she introduces two men whose own line of products — named "Get Some" — are so baldly misogynistic they can hardly even be useful as satire.

Given her success in her field, Luna has an odd approach to her own appearance. Especially in her first scene, the contrast between skin coloring, dyed hair and orange dress screams out for a makeover. (In one of Sydney's good lines, she disses her as "the angry carrot.") But she's excellent at sowing discord, and soon the friends are on edge.

Unfortunately, everyone involved seems to understand that this movie only crackles when Haddish and Byrne are feeding off each other's energy — even when that means that Mia is coolly trying to push the women past an obstacle that Mel, trying hard to please everyone, doesn't yet see. So Boss truncates the conflict: We get one extended bit of physical comedy in which Mel sabotages Mia, followed by a scene in which they publicly blow up at each other. Once they've called it quits on their relationship, the movie blazes through a trio of mini-scenes in which friends urge them to reconsider. Few rom-coms have ever been this eager to push their stars back together, and it happens here with no friction at all.

The less said about the sequence in which they publicly go up against Claire Luna, the better. It's implausible in just about every respect, down to the new product they introduce at a gala Luna hosts. Their invention doesn't seem like the stroke of genius the pic suggests it is, as it doesn't look at all conducive to the way women actually use cosmetics. Not being a makeup consumer, I can't say that with authority, and neither, I suspect, can screenwriters Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman. But Byrne and Haddish sell it like believers, and the movie immediately leaps forward to imagine a future for the characters in which "like a boss" means something other than "like an arrogant tool of the system, bending others to your will."

Production companies: Artists First, Paramount Pictures
Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek, Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, Ari Graynor, Karan Soni
Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenwriters: Sam Pitman, Adam Cole-Kelly
Producers: Marc Evans, Peter Principato, Itay Reiss, Joel Zadak
Executive producers: Tiffany Haddish, Nicolas Stern
Director of photography: Jas Shelton
Production designer: Theresa Guleserian
Costume designer: Sekinah Brown
Editor: Jay Deuby
Composer: Christophe Beck
Casting directors: Allison Jones, Kris Redding

Rated R, 83 minutes