Its economic message might be fuzzy. Its feminism, too. But best-friend comedy “Like a Boss” rides Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrnes’s frisky and believable chemistry to laughs — some worn, some crude, but more than a few delivered deftly and consistently enough to keep audiences smiling if not doubled over.
The two share the house Mia inherited, the one where Mel came to live as a teen when her own family cratered. They were enterprising girls who grew into inventive businesswomen, all the while remaining best friends. They complete each other. Yes, in the rom-com sense, the film — directed by Miguel Arteta — makes clear. Friendship can be one of the great romances, after all.
Owners of their own cosmetics line and boutique, Mia and Mel’s deep affection is tested when cosmetics titan Claire Luna, played by Salma Hayek, swoops in to invest in their self-named company. They are nearly $500,000 in debt, a fact Mel (Byrne) has been keeping from Mia.
“Keeping from” might be overstating it. Haddish’s Mia is the details-be-damned, creative half of the duo. Later, when their former employee Barrett (Billy Porter) reads Mia the riot act, he underscores just how much Mel has set the stage for Mia to breeze in and do her thing. Mel does the worrying for the both of them.
The true protagonist here is Mia and Mel’s friendship. It’s the kind of relationship that would take a villain to upend. Enter Luna. Her cosmetics conglomerate dominates the market. (If the vertical and vast headquarters suggests an upscale mall, it may be because those scenes were shot in downtown Atlanta’s AmericasMart.)
Like Mel, we may want to like Luna. The way she dispatches a pesky drone is admirable. And, she prowls the halls and conference rooms of her empire with a golf club in hand. It seems a bit like a cane until you think back on De Niro with the baseball bat in “The Untouchables.” (Was it Chekhov who wrote, if you introduce a nine iron in the first act it has to be swung in the second?)
Arteta directed Hayek in “Beatriz at Dinner,” a rending indie about the damage wrought by economic inequality. Hayek played a complicated hero/victim. Here she relishes her role as the not-so-complex perp. Her bright, dyed-red tresses aren’t the only reason someone calls her an angry carrot. She’s a cartoonish baddie. She even has a minion by the name of Josh (Karan Soni). And she doesn’t actually care for the more authentic take on beauty and makeup that Mia and Mel’s products encourage.
Luna’s motive for preying on, er, courting the two entrepreneurs goes beyond power. As soon as Luna’s former partner — and one-time bestie — is mentioned, the question isn’t “Will she make an appearance?” but “Who will play her?” The answer (no spoiler here ) offers a nice payoff.
Still, where Mel sees an opportunity, Mia sees opportunist. Much as Luna hoped, the friendship frays.
“Like a Boss” lands squarely in the space between the familiar and the fresh, between “saw that coming” and “hmm, nice!” Writing partners Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly (Danielle Sanchez-Witzel shares a story credit) play it safe for their first produced feature, cadging more than a little from “Bridesmaids,” which has become the grail for a certain kind of female-friendship comedy.
Byrne’s presence is the most obvious example of the one degree of separation between the two. There are others. Ari Graynor (from FX’s upcoming limited series “Mrs. America”), Natasha Rothwell (“Insecure”), and Jessica St. Clair (“Playing House”) make up Mia and Mel’s amiable, more financially grounded friendship posse.
The funniest form of flattery comes in a scene where a hired chef teaches the group of friends how to prepare a Mexican meal. When she hands out ghost peppers, things are sure to get explosive. Rothwell’s terrific, tired-mom outburst makes it easy to ignore the fact that the world’s hottest pepper isn’t, in fact, typical of the cuisine.
Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge fill out team Mia and Mel as more-than-employees Barrett and Sydney. Coolidge plies her amiable dumb and decent charms. Porter utterly owns Barrett, whose just-so ensembles (costumes by Sekinah Brown) are as sharp as his observations. Porter deserves extra props for making Barrett’s “tragic moment” so ridiculously comedic.
Jacob Latimore brings a sweet heat to Harry, Mia’s foxy and dear bootie-call. Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen play Mia and Mel’s bro rivals at Claire Luna’s ginned up competition. The motto for their cosmetic line: “Get some Get Some, to get some.”
There’s zero worry that Mia and Mel will find their way back to each other. Blame this certainty on the script’s too-broad strokes. But credit the irrepressible charm of the reunion on the convincing friendship Haddish and Byrne establish from the get-go. Like Mia and Mel’s product line, Haddish’s well-honed brashness, Byrne’s depiction of self-doubt, and Arteta’s skill at getting the best from his cast conceal the blemishes and give “Like a Boss” a nice shine.