Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Writer: Fernando León de Aranoa
Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Sonia Almarcha, Óscar de la Fuente, Almudena Amor, Fernando Albizu, Tarik Rmili, Celso Bugallo
Producers: Fernando León de Aranoa, Javier Méndez, Jaume Roures
Music: Zeltia Montes
Cinematographer: Pau Esteve Birba
Editor: Vanessa Marimbert
Running time: 116mins
What’s the story: In suburban Madrid, Julio Blanco (Bardem) owns a factory making scales. Just as an important awards committee is due to visit his company, multiple crises threaten to tip the balance of his entire life.
What’s the verdict: Javier Bardem brings his trademark heavy-lidded eyes charm and menace, plus welcome late-middle-aged exasperation, to Julio Blanco. Blanco may not exactly be David Brent, but his managerial style needs work. Moreover, belying his surname, this “good boss” is not whiter than white.
He may like to think of himself as father to his “family” of workers. To prove his point, he certainly enjoys reminding them that he and his wife (Almarcha) never had children. But, Blanco is casually racist, treats the ironically named Fortuna (Bugallo), an old-timer on his shop floor, as a lackey in his personal life, and has an eye for statuesque interns. Under the guise of helping his employees, he has a knack for crashing into situations short of all the facts.
Blanco needs one more award to complete the set on his wall of accolades, and the judging committee’s visit is imminent. Which means friction between his friend and Head of Production Miralles (Solo) and Logistics Manager Khaled (Rmili) is not helpful. Nor is a protest set up across the road from the factory by fired employee Jose (de la Fuente), furious at a meagre payoff. Moreover, nonchalant security guard Roman (Albizu) has taken to having morning coffee with the one-man strike. Then there is new intern Lilianna (Amor), who may be trouble in ways not even Blanco could imagine.
Writer-director de Aranoa’s whip smart satire is a film to be savoured on two levels. If you’re in the mood for a comedy of errors, with broad chuckles nestled comfortably beside wry humour, The Good Boss hits all its KPIs. As the various obstacles (most of his own creation) threaten to collapse Blanco’s empire, Bardem’s gift for physical comedy and deadpan delivery is given full showcase. Plus, that crucial visit from the awards committee has a touch of the hotel inspectors from a classic episode of Fawlty Towers.
But, making The Good Boss a contender for Top 10 Films of the Year lists is the darker undercurrent flowing through the comedic goings-on. de Aranoa’s movies lean heavily into social commentary; his earlier collaboration with Bardem, 2002’s Mondays in the Sun, was about able-bodied men consigned to the scrapheap of unemployment. 2005’s Princesses was a sobering look at women surviving (or not) street prostitution in Madrid.
This is a lighter affair, but baked into the humour is a caustic allegory on class-divide and capitalism. Blanco’s protection of his “family” takes the film down darker roads, de Aranoa handling the tonal gear shifts superbly. Assisted by a roster of faultless performances, and Zeltia Montes’ nervy string score.
Blanco prides himself on his scales being precise to the minutest degree. But, this excellent film shows that while every set is balanced, some are more balanced than others. Bonuses all round…