Eagerly bounding onto the scene as one of the first broad comedies of the year, Like A Boss stars an impressive grouping of the best comedic actors of our time. Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne pull out a range of comedic registers as the leads, and Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Rothwell, Salma Hayek, Jessica St. Clair, and Ari Graynor shine in supporting roles. The film reminded me of another favorite of the genre, The Spy Who Dumped Me, which is to say that Like A Boss has smarter ideas about relationships and power than many will give it credit for, even though it ultimately plays into a more palatable version of corporate feminist fantasy.
Haddish and Byrne, playing lifelong best friends and business partners Mia and Mel, have their own makeup business but are in deep debt. Mel (Byrne), the ambitious yet timid financially-minded one, was neglected as a child by her drug-addicted mother and Mia (Haddish), the shrewd, outspoken and creative one, recently lost her mother, who essentially raised Mel as well. The two are bound not only by absent mothers but by symbiosis—Mia and Mel have managed to maintain a close, supportive friendship well into their thirties by both emotionally and financially supporting each other (Mia has a boyfriend of sorts, but they’re on the same page about the relationship being mostly physical). Haddish and Byrne play off each other without competing, but allow the barbed bits of the friendship to seep through the convivial repartee: Mel often allows Mia to walk over her with a signature bombast and confidence and Mia doesn’t directly challenge Mel on her compulsive deference to authority—mostly in the form of Hayek’s absurdly arrogant beauty industry mogul Clara Luna—until it’s nearly too late.
Rothwell, St. Clair, and Graynor play Mia and Mel’s conventionally successful, wealthy, wifeyed-up college friends, Jill, Kim, and Angela, who, while expressive and interesting, have traded in any sense of risk for comfort, security, and achievement. Each of them seem on the brink of boiling over from the expectations of lean-in feminism, which have provided them with riches and nuclear families, but have excluded them from a sense of community or camaraderie. From the looks of their homes, they collectively seem to be financially in a position to help Mia and Mel out with their half a million in small business debt, but a combined lack of communication (first between Mia and Mel and then between Mel and the others) as well as a bootstraps ethos (Rothwell’s Jill yells out of the window “You need to get your shit together!” at Mel as she stands with Mia on the roof after the two are caught smoking weed in the same room as Jill’s sleeping baby) prevents the group from finding a solution outside of Luna’s vampiric corporate investment.
Like A Boss is interested in how we look to corporate behemoths to soothe our feelings of fear and vulnerability in an unkind world, and how, by doing so, we abandon the worthwhile relationships we may have already formed in the midst of hardship. Unfortunately though unsurprisingly, the story does not push this compelling idea to its more radical limits—Mia and Mel are able to crystallize their bond and business through the help of a benevolent capitalist played by (spoiler) Lisa Kudrow, a casting choice that seems to gesture back to Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Still, playing Mia and Mel’s employees Sydney and Barrett, Coolidge—portraying a richer version of her character in Legally Blonde—and Porter interject in the film’s predictable rhythms by offering up a mix of camp and absurdity while also subtly revealing the everyday cruelties of business as usual. Like The Spy Who Dumped Me, the film’s producers seem to believe that all the characters must end up wealthy for us to understand their virtue, but luckily for both films, it is actually at their most compromised moments that the characters’ humanity, humor, and companionship actually matters. Corporate feminism simply tries to rip off the idea.