By Maureen Lee Lenker
January 09, 2020 at 06:31 PM EST
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Bridesmaids paved the way for raunchy female-driven comedies nearly a decade ago, and one could take it as a sign of progress that even extremely mediocre ones are now being greenlit and made with A-list casts.

Like a Boss, which stars Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish as childhood friends who start their own cosmetics line, is one such less-than-stellar entry into the canon. Byrne is ambitious, uptight Mel, while Haddish is creative, off-the-wall Mia; the longtime pals turned fledging business owners find their friendship put to the test when beauty mogul Claira Luna (a farcical Salma Hayek) seeks to buy a controlling stake in their company.

The film tries to replicate the formula that made Bridesmaids sing, pairing a heartfelt story exploring the complexities of female friendship with bawdy, over-the-top comedy. But the first half of the equation only partly succeeds, and the latter falls totally flat. On the plus side, the depiction of Mel and Mia’s friendship is heartwarming, capturing the peculiar blend of small annoyances that build into fights and the ride-or-die energy that defines so many friendships.

Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount

The duo have noble aims with their company, focusing on inner beauty and making the customer feel as beautiful as their best friend knows them to be. It’s a lovely core tenet, one that rises above the noise of the film’s unsuccessful comedy so long as you don’t think too hard about the capitalist implications. Self-acceptance messaging is certainly healthier than unobtainable beauty ideals, and we all do truly wish we could see ourselves the way our besties do, but ultimately it’s still about selling a product.

Where the film really stumbles is its comedy: The jokes in Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly’s script are patently unfunny. Byrne’s gift for physical comedy and Haddish’s outrageous humor get a few brief moments to shine, but they’re largely saddled with a script that leaves them maniacally attempting to land punchlines that have no chance of hitting. The two deserve much better.

The schtick that made Haddish a household name in Girls Trip has started to wear thin, and the film wisely dials it back, unleashing it in key moments like an ill-advised threat to jump several stories (one of the few moments that made this reviewer even crack a smile). Instead, Haddish more often serves as the voice of reason, granting her a gravitas that she wears well. Meanwhile, Byrne, who has proved herself a deft comedian in projects like Bridesmaids and Neighbors, is asked to live in a constant state of near-hysteria, her ambition often painted as a shrewish attribute.

Hayek has a thankless role as villain Claire Luna; she’s so cartoonish they literally call her Jessica Rabbit at one point. Trussed up in a horrendous ginger wig and false teeth, Hayek dials her natural accent up to 11, once again making her dialect the tired butt of a joke. Her villainy has no nuance, no softer depths to be explored, so her machinations and their consequences feels unsatisfying in every way.

Even comedy stalwart Jennifer Coolidge, who features as a dippy employee in Mel and Mia’s store, can’t manage to elevate the turgid script. Billy Porter also costars as Barrett, the man who produces their cosmetics, but the part leans too heavily on gay stereotypes pulled from another decade. One can’t help but wonder if more nuance and genuine laughs could’ve been injected with some female oversight on the screenwriting team or in the director’s chair. (Miguel Arteta helmed the film.)

Like a Boss attempts to wrap a sentimental tale of female friendship in the trappings of bawdy comedy, but in both cases it gives women what the filmmakers think we want to see rather than discerning actual truths about the challenges and humor of our lives. It’s buddy comedy meets workplace caper, but this tale of the business of cosmetics could definitely use some corporate restructuring. C

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