There’s a boring old adage, usually trotted out by people involved in movies that are getting critically drubbed, that basically goes “it’s a miracle any movie is ever made.” This refers, of course, to the thousands of moving pieces that need to come together every day on a film shoot — so much can go wrong at any moment on a shoot that the results should, at every step, be seen as some sort of benediction. Of course, thousands upon thousands of movies of varying quality are made every year, which makes that aforementioned adage kind of moot, but I couldn’t help thinking about it after I saw Miguel Arteta’s Like a Boss.
It’s a studio comedy that’s being released in early January, so obviously miracles aren’t to be expected, but the final product is so slapdash, ragged and unfinished that it does feel miraculous that this has made it to the stage of being seen by paying customers. Like a Boss isn’t just a bad movie; those are a dime-a-dozen these days. Like a Boss is barely even a movie; every scene feels at best like a rough estimation of what the scene could be somewhere down the line, full of trailed-off punchlines, staccato editing, contradictory character motivations and dialogue that feels like a placeholder that never got replaced. It is, quite simply, a brand new frontier in the world of early January studio dumps.
Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) are friends since middle school who have turned their eternal passion for cosmetics into a small business that encompasses a salon and a make-up line. Despite doing decent online sales, they can barely keep themselves and their two employees (Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge) afloat, a fact that Mel (the responsible one) has been studiously keeping from Mia (the creative one). The precarious financial situation means that Mel takes it very positively when they’re approached by make-up magnate Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) for a prospective buyout. Mia, on the other hand, has little interest in relinquishing their independence. As they navigate Luna’s offers, a wedge is slowly driven between the two friends.
Mildly vulgar in the way that any R-rated comedy might be but absolutely devoid of a comedic voice, Like a Boss putters along indiscriminately by splitting its time between laborious set-ups with no punchlines and scenes offering copious, wooden exposition. What I can say about the characters is mainly things that other characters say about them. In their actions, Mia and Mel are often interchangeable, swapping personality characteristics for whatever suits the scene. Setpieces are often truncated before their logical end, and there are several subplots that are established and almost immediately dropped. The spectre of ADR punchlines looms large: it seems that Haddish went in during post-production and dubbed in more Haddish-y jokes to scenes where she’s not on screen, so if you liked the way she said “bootyhole” in Girls Trip, you’re in luck! It’s not so much structured as it is piled together, a series of disparate ideas precariously stacked on top of each other with little concern for how it all plays out.
So what happened, exactly? When faced with a movie this messy, it’s tempting to want to dissect behind the scenes rather than the haphazard mess on-screen. (Frankly, what’s on-screen doesn’t leave much to discuss.) Arteta is a talented director of prickly dramedies with a couple of bigger mainstream projects to his name, and all three of the leads are immensely likable comedic performers. Like a Boss should be, at the very least, competently forgettable, but instead it’s a leaden torture session in which even simple dialogue scenes feel choppy and pointless. Based on the staccato editing, multiple loose ends and obvious post-production tinkering, my guess is this: the film was greenlit as a Tiffany Haddish comedic vehicle and severely retooled when Arteta delivered a less overtly comedic two-hander. The vestiges of the more dramatic film are seen in some dialogue scenes, which have a more handheld, naturalistic style that the rest of the film does not have. This is evident in one scene in which Byrne’s character rudely dismisses a one-night stand, which in turn reveals something about her character that is never again touched upon in the film.
Truth be told, it’s unlikely that even the best imaginable version of Like a Boss is a good movie. Even with its jokes in the right place, its scenes properly paced, its tone equal and its dialogue skewing closer to the way real human beings talk, it would still be a fairly generic comedy exploring extremely banal ideas of friendship and sisterhood. It would, however, be tolerable, which is not something that I can say about the present incarnation of Like a Boss. It’s also, to be perfectly honest, barely a movie, so everyone gets a pass. You can’t accuse anyone of making a bad movie if the final product doesn’t even register as such. ■
Like a Boss opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Jan. 10. Watch the trailer below.
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