Two women, friends since childhood, see their make-up business face disaster after a cosmetics mogul tries to buy them out.
Considering how old-fashioned Like A Boss feels, I was expecting wall-to-wall matte plum lipstick and a sea of Rachel cuts.
While it tries to position itself as current, its tale of a rapacious female boss swooping in to take over a small cosmetics business run by two friends is pretty dated, and the jokes are thin on the ground. It’s worth a watch for its super-talented cast, but it often feels like a sophisticated Chanel eyeshadow palette on a shouty pantomime Ugly Sister.
Mel (Rose Byrne) and Mia (Tiffany Haddish), friends since middle school, live together and run their own cosmetics business Mia & Mel. It’s ethical but small time – one store, two employees, one hit product that’s past its prime (their One Night Stand make-up set) – and the debts are mounting.
Mia (Tiffany Haddish) is the creative, outspoken colour wizard, Mel (Rose Byrne) the one supposedly in control of the business side, though she’s not doing a very good job – with her desperation for approval from any potential mother figure soon making her forget their original aims and their friendship.
Their two employees, Barrett (Billy Porter) and Sydney (Jennifer Coolidge) are dedicated but underemployed; no one seems to pay full price for anything. To be honest even I thought they needed a shake up and when it comes to business I’m as useful as a chocolate teapot. In fact I’d probably think a chocolate teapot was a good business idea.
Enter pantomime villain Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), who’s about as maternal as those spiders that eat their babies, waving her chequebook. A hard-nosed make-up mogul and the kind of businessperson who claims to be raising up the little guys while setting them against each other, she wants to buy Mia & Mel, and by extension Mia and Mel.
Soon Mia and Mel are fighting over the changes they’re being forced to make to their business, as Claire dismisses their belief that make-up is about highlighting your inner beauty and then makes them dismiss Barrett, their cosmetics mixer. (“Shame on your house” he intones dramatically as he slowly, slowly gets up from the restaurant table after being fired and leaves the room. It’s the perfect exit, and if you take anything from the film take this.)
Naturally the two women have to rediscover their friendship, remember the reasons why they started a business together in the first place, launch their new product, establish another income stream and have a singsong – and it all careers along at quite a pace as they’ve only got 83 minutes to do it in. (Some of it literally happens too fast; the pictures at the start showing their blossoming friendship from childhood through college go by too quickly to read the social media-esque captions.)
Its reversal of the worst stereotypes, in movies and make-up, is well-meaning and welcome but comes across as clunky. Mel, looking like your archetypal WASP make-up influencer – impossibly slender, blonde, business-minded – had the tough childhood and a drug addict parent, her only security Mia’s home and Mia’s mother. At one point Sydney is seen explaining that their company website shows a white model and a Black model (followed immediately by a plug for website provider Wix!)
Most of the characters are one-dimensional though that doesn’t mean they don’t ever feel true (and they’re quite fun). Greg (Ryan Hansen) and Ron (Jimmy O Yang), the two straight men behind rival fledgling make-up brand Get Some, sell a man’s idea of female beauty back to women while convincing them that’s what they want. It’s witty and true, and could have been explored more fully.
Still, in a movie about the strength of female friendship, whether between 30-something business owners or teenage make-up fans, Mia and Mel’s five-strong friendship group is also refreshingly unbitchy. They really love and want the best for each other, even when they’re envious or arguing.
Like A Boss boasts a fine cast (including Natasha Rothwell as their friend Jill, and Karan Soni as Claire’s assistant Josh) working every so-so line to squeeze out the humour and emotion. Their hard work drives the few big laughs. Mia, dangling by her feet over the atrium of Claire’s business empire, shouldn’t be particularly funny but Haddish had me in stitches.
The snippy banter between Claire’s ex-business partner Shay (Lisa Kudrow) and Claire works because of Kudrow and Hayek: “Even your face looks like it hasn’t smiled in 30 years” sniffs Shay. “Like that is supposed to be an insult?” hits back a mystified Claire. “Well yeah to your soul. Physically you look great!”
There are some touches that absolutely hit the spot, and yes I’m talking about the pussy cake at their friend’s baby shower, showing an infant’s head emerging from an icing vagina.
But everyone is trying so hard it often feels overacted; this and the shallow direction leaves us with what amounts to a series of sketches. Nothing feels real, with the actual process of selling a huge stake in their company looking like a back-of-a-cigarette packet deal.
Like A Boss comes across like one of those American Disney TV series (trust me as a mum of tweens I watch a lot of those things) where there are no grey areas and everyone declaims their lines before falling over, only without being as funny as, say, The Thundermans. Or The Haunted Hathaways. Or Jessie. Or Bunk’d. (Look I did tell you I’d watched a lot of them.)
Watch the Like A Boss trailer now:
Claire steals their One Night Stand make-up pack idea. Mel and Mia re-employ Barrett. Mia goes to see Shay, Claire’s ex-partner who was previously forced out. Together with Mel they launch a new company, Proud, with their new make up palette for best friends, Ride Or Die. They announce it by taking over Claire’s huge party where Get Some were to be announced as Claire’s new protégées. Claire is reminded by Shay that as Mia and Mel still own 49% of their company they’ll be due $490,000 of that billion pound make-up line Claire is planning with One Night Stand. Mia, Mel, ands their friends take to the stage at the party and sing Proud Mary. The End, don’t cry unless your mascara is waterproof.