The Good Boss (2022)

Bardem in charge in ‘Good Boss’

By Al Alexander

If given the opportunity, would you enjoy serving a boss boldly contorting ethics in order to make you and all of your co-workers content? That’s the intriguing question at the heart of “The Good Boss,” a pitch-black, workplace comedy fueled by Javier Bardem’s seductively slimy portrayal of a baron whose industrial-scale factory is decidedly out of balance.

As Blanco, a genial cad who is all about image, Bardem turns on the sleaze in chasing a Business Excellence award he’s already cleared room for on his expansive trophy wall. To win it, he must convince the judges he operates the happiest, most efficient workplace in his provincial Spanish town. The caveat is that he doesn’t know which day the inspectors will drop in. Meaning that any employee experiencing turbulence in his or her personal life that day could sink his plan, but good.

What ensues in writer-director Fernando León De Aranoa’s twisted take on “Waiting for Godot” is essentially a maddening game of Whac-a-Mole for the increasingly flustered Blanco, as he rushes about dousing flare-ups among his staff. There is no ethical boundary Blanco won’t cross in his quest for personal gain. The challenge facing De Aranoa and Bardem is rendering a jerk as self-serving as Blanco likable.

It’s a tough task, but if anybody can pull it off, it’s Bardem, who won an Oscar for manifesting a hilarious, blood-thirsty hitman in “No Country for Old Men.” While his Blanco is no Chigurh, he’s unwittingly funny, and even a tad sympathetic, as he deceives, cheats and exploits all those around him, including his wife, Adela (Sonia Almarcha), and best friend, Miralles (Manolo Solo), doubling as the factory’s invaluable head of production.

The setup is pure farce, splashed with strokes of corny melodrama, such as Blanco’s attempts to bed a beautiful young intern (Almudena Amor) he absentmindedly forgets is the daughter of an old friend; and Miralles’ all-consuming jealousy after discovering the wife (Mara Guil) he’s been unfaithful to is enjoying affairs of her own.

Coaxing Miralles out of his festering ennui is hardly the most arduous task confronting Blanco. That would be in the form of Jose (Oscar De La Fuente), a laid-off divorcé so indignant he’s set up camp directly across from the Basculas Blanco plant and in direct sight of the judges whenever they arrive.

Perhaps most comical of the film’s numerous running gags involves Roman (Fernando Albizu), the factory’s gatekeeper, torn between his loyalty to Blanco and his sympathy for Jose, whose extremely vocal protests escalate in pertinence the more heartless his boss grows in response. In a way, Roman is the closest thing to a moral compass in a film accentuating the immoral, whether the topic is racism, sexism, nepotism or almost any other ism imaginable.

While no doubt humorous, the underlying problem with “The Good Boss,” besides being overly long at 120 minutes, is that the message De Aranoa seeks to convey isn’t exactly clear or all that relevant. Yes, the old serf-lord factory model is passe, but what of it? Are modern corporate behemoths like Google and Facebook any better? And the writer-director’s use of scales as symbols for inequality is so overdone they lose all meaning. Lucky for him, he has Bardem to bail him out.

It’s one of the Spaniard’s finest performances, brimming with self-righteousness and a perverse sense of entitlement so acute that Blanco finds himself mistaking perversion for samaritanism. He’s all the more riotous for it. And it’s entirely due to Bardem’s hefty labors that a product as manufactured as “The Good Boss” works.

Movie review

The Good Boss

Rated: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use.

Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, Oscar De La Fuente

Director: Fernando León De Aranoa

Writer: Fernando León De Aranoa

Runtime: 120 minutes

Language: In Spanish with English subtitles

Grade: B

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