The Good Boss (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A mild Spanish social satire starring Javier Bardem

Spanish film “The Good Boss”, which was selected as the Spain’s entry to Best International Film Oscar instead of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” (2021), is a mild social satire which could be tauter and edgier for more laughs. Although it is carried fairly well by the good lead performance at its center, its ironic comic moments do not strike us that hard due to being often deficient in surprise, which is always a crucial element for laughs. Right from the beginning, we can clearly see where the story is heading, and the movie takes a very predictable course without generating enough comic momentum to hold our attention.

Javier Bardem, a charismatic Spanish actor who has steadily impressed us since his international breakthrough turn in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” (2000), plays Julio Blanco, a middle-aged businessman who has run a small company producing industrial scales for years. During the opening part, we see Julio about to begin another busy week along with the employees of his company, and we come to gather that he is very anxious about getting some prestigious local industrial award again, but it turns out that there are a few serious problems on his way to that glorious achievement. There is an ex-employee who is very angry about suddenly becoming unemployed, and Julio also notices that Miralles (Manolo Solo), a close friend of his who has also worked under him for many years, is not doing that well for some personal reason he is not so willing to tell.

As the boss of the company, Julio tries to handle these problems as soon as possible before those evaluators come to his company factory for the final evaluation, but the situation only becomes more complicated to his frustration and exasperation. While that unemployed dude begins to protest against Julio right in front of the company factory day by day, Miralles turns out to be much messier than expected, and Julio has no choice but to get involved more into Miralles’ private life as an old friend, though it is revealed later that their relationship is not as truthful as he has believed.

Meanwhile, a trio of young female interns start to work in Julio’s company, and Julio finds himself quite attracted to one of these young ladies. Because he already had an affair with a previous female intern without getting noticed by his trusting wife, he has no qualms about approaching to this lass a bit closer, and, what do you know, she does not mind his indecent approach at all. When they later happen to come across each other at a nightclub, both of them are ready to move onto the next step, but, not so surprisingly, there is something important she has not revealed to him yet.

The screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Fernando León de Aranoa has some fun with throwing more troubles into its hero’s increasingly difficult circumstance, but the overall result does not surprise or shock us enough. For example, the part involved with that unemployed dude feels repetitive as going nowhere till the last act of the story, and there is not much surprise in what eventually happens between him and Julio. In case of the subplot involved with that female intern, we do get some laughs from the absurd situation between her and Julio, but de Aranoa’s screenplay does not push this situation further while only rolling it toward a predictable outcome.

Of course, the movie frequently attempts to ridicule and satirize its hero’s gradually emerging hypocrisy, but its attempts are not accompanied with enough edge and bare. As merely observing how selfish and hypocritical its hero really is, the movie seems to maintain its supposedly balanced viewpoint, but its resulting lack of attitude often makes it feel shallow and superficial, and that only accentuates its rather thin narrative and broad characterization.

Anyway, Bardem, who was incidentally Oscar-nominated in last week for a bit better performance in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” (2021), dutifully holds the center via his engaging performance. While never making any excuse on his character’s unlikable aspects, Bardem effortlessly handles a number of comic moments in the film, and he is particularly funny during one scene where his character happens to have a dinner with his wife and several other figures who make him very uncomfortable for a good reason. Without any ounce of exaggeration, Bardem deftly conveys to us his character’s growing inconvenience and annoyance, and we are tickled by how his character manages to hide his feelings in front of others except one particular figure.

In case of the other main cast members in the film, they fill their caricature supporting roles as much as they can. While Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, and Óscar de la Fuente are notable as more colorful ones in the bunch, Sonia Almarcha does not have much to do as Julio’s unsuspecting wife, and Celso Bugallo gains some sympathy from us as an old employee exploited by his employer in more than one way.

Although it is occasionally amusing mainly thanks to Bardem’s solid lead performance, “The Good Boss” did not elicit enough chuckle from me while failing to develop its comic potential as fully as possible, and I walked out of the screening room with lingering dissatisfaction as reflecting on how it could be more effective and hilarious. I am certainly ready for any good satire on business and capitalism, but this is not a good one in my trivial opinion, and I am already ready to move onto whatever I am going to watch next.

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