Javier Bardem is one of those actors who, even when he’s playing a virtuous person, gives off a slightly menacing feeling. Thanks to his Oscar-quality acting, his characters almost always have something extra going on under the surface, and his films are invariably improved by the approach he brings to his performances.
This ability is on full display in the Spanish film The Good Boss, finally getting a release in the United States after being Spain’s submission to the 2022 Academy Awards. Bardem plays Blanco, the head of Blanco Scales, a company renowned locally for its great weight-measuring products and its culture, which has earned it multiple regional awards. As the film begins, we learn they’re up for another prestigious award, and Blanco has gathered his employees to try to inspire them.
Right away, however, it’s clear that things are off. A disgruntled employee who has just been fired storms back into the factory, and is soon protesting outside the front gates every day. This becomes the first of many situations with which Blanco becomes a little too involved. Instead of delegating or letting people work out their own personal problems, Blanco uses his power and charm to try to control everything that could affect the company.
Written and directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, the film takes place over one event-filled week, following Blanco as he becomes increasingly unraveled over things he can’t control. The title, while not quite ironic, has perhaps a bit of sarcasm to it. Blanco obviously sees himself as someone who looks out for his “family” of employees, but the lengths he goes to “help” them — and, by extension, the company — is highly unusual.
The film is as much a comedy as it is a drama, and the story sort of plays out like an extended episode of The Office, only instead of the boss getting himself in hot water due to incompetence, he does so because of his micro-managing. Blanco rarely misses an opportunity to apply the metaphor of balancing the scales in conversations with employees, so often that you wonder if he thinks about anything else.
Aranoa paces the film extremely well, using a day-by-day structure to show how Blanco’s problems only deepen the more he sticks his nose in where he might not belong. Blanco’s version of being overly involved with his employees extends to having a wandering eye for young women like new intern Liliana (Almudena Amor). The way Aranoa resolves the potential #MeToo situation feels clever and just without becoming too heavy.
Bardem, unlike his character, is in full control of every scene of the film. He’s so persuasive in various scenes that it’s easy to understand why most people like his character so much, but he also turns the dial just enough to see the desperation of Blanco. The rest of the cast are true supporting actors, but Amor, Manolo Solo, and Óscar de la Fuente stand out for their performances.
A film like The Good Boss could only come from a European filmmaker, as American studios rarely give directors a chance to make fun, interesting movies for adults these days. Blanco may not be as good a leader as he thinks he is, but his story during one particularly hectic week makes for compelling viewing.
The Good Boss opened in select theaters on September 2.