Spain’s submission for Best International Feature of 2021 (it was even shortlisted) and the winner of six Goya Awards (it was nominated for a record 20), writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa re-teams with his Loving Pablo star Javier Bardem for The Good Boss, a work that takes the global corporate phenomenon of placing profits and image over people and illustrates it on a somewhat smaller scale in provincial Spain. Bardem stars as Julio Blanco, the head of Blanco’s Scales (a position handed down to him by his father, lest you think Julio worked for his status). The company has won every major award for both the accuracy of its industrial scale products and the way management treats its employees like family, but when the film starts, everyone is awaiting the arrival of committee members who will decide whether the company will receive a highly coveted Business Excellence award (Julio even has an empty spot for it on his wall of trophies and plaques).
Spanning the space of about a week and a half, the movie observes employees at every level of the business going through various anxieties and meltdowns, since they don’t know exactly when the judges will arrive. Tensions are understandably high since everything must be perfect. Naturally, Julio must endure one crisis after another during this period of uncertainty, most of the issues stemming from the personal lives of his employees and even his own. His right-hand man and one of his oldest friends (Manolo Solo) is having marriage issues, stemming from his wife wanting to leave him because she’s sleeping with someone else, which in turn is making him screw up major orders in the factory. A disgruntled former employee has taken up residence right outside the facility’s front gate and is protesting loudly and constantly to get his job back. There are cultural clashes afoot, and Julio even adds to the list of issues when he finds himself drawn to one of the company’s newest female interns (Almudena Amor).
Julio wants desperately to resolve the issues and allow his humble facility to put its best face forward when the committee members arrive, but he is thwarted at every step, often for darkly funny reasons. All the while, he spouts inspirational tomes about balance and calibration and finding a way to find both in one’s personal and work life in order to be the best version of oneself. But somehow, ethical practices and actually looking out for your loyal workers don’t enter the equation when a prestigious award is on the line. The way Julio inserts himself into everyone else’s business is hilarious, and Bardem’s performance is measured and collected, almost to a fault. Julio is so worried about appearing in control that we clearly see his mask begin to crack from the pressure.
It isn’t until the end of The Good Boss that we begin to understand that so much of what we see Julio doing throughout the film is by design, as a means of solving his many problems. Of course, there are a few solutions that simply fall into his lap by pure luck, but he’s smart enough to seize the opportunities and manipulate situations to his advantage. Some of the issues resolve quite tragically, while others are cleverly and humorously dealt with. Every player in the story gets their moment (some get several), and by the end, we feel we know this small community of workers and bosses as well as we do anyone we’ve worked with in our lives. But it’s Bardem’s sly, slightly arrogant, faux-compassionate portrayal that carries and elevates the movie. He’s a master in any language, but it’s always so satisfying to see and hear him in his native tongue; he weaves magic and power in the Spanish language, and that’s exactly what he does here.
The will be released Friday in theaters.
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