The Good Boss

It’s mostly balanced on this not so good boss.

I knew what to expect when watching the Spanish dark comedy “The Good Boss.” The poster tried to cross out the word “Good,” so I knew this boss would be trouble. He’s a charismatic businessman, the owner of a scale factory, who will do whatever’s necessary to win a business award.

Javier Bardem is charismatic in the role of Julio Blanco, owner and operator of Blanco Scales, translated from Basculas Blanco. He has a number of problems which threaten his chances of getting high praise from a committee. We see him smiling and making “heartwarming” speeches about the employees he’s keeping and letting go for financial reasons. From what we see, he’s more of a person who interferes with his employees lives and even takes a liking to one of his new interns. Now you know this man is trouble.

The way he smiles and schemes reminds me of how wickedly fun Rosamund Pike was last year in “I Care A Lot.” You can tell you hate these characters, while admiring the performances who convince us of their true colors.

Here are some of the issues he’s facing.

  • Miralles (Manolo Solo), his Head of Marketing, is on the brink of divorce, and his personal issues begin to affect the company.
  • Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), a man he had to let go for financial reasons, is protesting outside the building. And he can’t be removed by the police, because the land he’s on isn’t owned by anyone.
  • Liliana (Almudena Amor) is the intern he has a thing for. They both hit it off with some problems.
  • Adela (Sonia Almarcha), his wife, has a young hooligan working in her shop to pay off a debt, regarding a beating he gave to an innocent Arab man. It isn’t much of a hassle for her, other than his troubled buddies hanging out outside the shop. This one is all cut-and-paste, but the boy does push further later on.

There’s more to each side. Well, almost more to each side, but I can’t spoil anything else. I want you to see where they go.

“The Good Boss” isn’t always balanced in terms of its story, which doesn’t have much to go on about. It runs for nearly two hours, and certain scenes are receptive. But what keeps the scales from tipping is how interested we are in this boss, and what underneath his “heartwarming” company speeches. Bardem, who specializes in playing villains (on the heels of “No Country for Old Men” and “Skyfall”), isn’t portraying a villain, but rather a boss with a lot on his plate, and will stop at nothing to clear most of it.

Yes, I meant to refer to it as a “dark comedy,” because the humor is often silly and truthful, especially the protesting Jose and the poetic security guard Roman (Fernando Albizu). And the consequences of his infidelity have some witty and intriguing results.

Writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa, who reunites with Bardem from “Los lunes al sol” and “Loving Pablo,” tips the scales for his protagonist/antagonist with all the troubles inside and outside the factory. He should have tipped them further for some of the situations I’ve mentioned, but there are moments that pay off. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re surprising, and sometimes they’re serious.

I can’t say this boss is evil, but he does some things that no boss should engage themselves in. It’s just fun to see how Bardem pulls it off, especially given his age.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters

Categories: comedy, Drama, Foreign

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