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film review

Javier Bardem and Almudena Amor in a scene from The Good Boss.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

The Good Boss

Written and directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa

Starring Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo and Oscar de la Fuente

Classification PG; 119 minutes

Opens in select theatres Aug. 26

The past two years have proved ripe for the resurgence of a darker, sharper kind of treatise on the modern workplace. From the nervy, claustrophobic unease of the Apple TV+ series Severance to the frenetic, edgy pace of HBO’s Industry, the intricacies of our relationship to work – and the shifting balance of power from top to bottom – seem to have taken on a greater significance since the pandemic.

In keeping with this skewering of management in particular comes Spanish writer and director Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s The Good Boss. Starring Javier Bardem as the charismatic but deeply self-important Blanco, head of a family business that manufactures and ships scales, The Good Boss is a satirical look at the precarious balance between boss and employee and how power travels back and forth between both.

Bardem’s “good boss” starts to manipulate and meddle with his employees’ lives in a bid to influence a business award his company is shortlisted for, though it’s clear from the beginning how badly he’s fumbling the effort despite his best – or are they his worst – intentions.

The warehouse appears to be falling apart at a critical juncture. There’s fired employee Jose (Oscar de la Fuente), who stages a sit-in/funeral for his lost job with his two young kids in tow. Meanwhile, manager Miralles (Manolo Solo) is too distracted by both his mistress and his failing marriage to do any part of his job properly. Of course, the more Blanco gets involved, the worse things appear to get as tensions and high jinks flare.

Bardem is magnetic as the self-serving boss who must manage his own failings even as he’s juggling the lives of his employees.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

The film is a reunion for Bardem and Aranoa, who worked together on 2002′s Mondays in the Sun. That film similarly explored the state of workers’ lives, taking an unflinching look at the impact of unemployment on a group of shipyard workers in northern Spain. Mondays won Aranoa a Goya, Spain’s Oscar equivalent, for best director. He repeated the feat last year with The Good Boss, which picked up 20 Goya nominations in total, including for best picture and actor, breaking a record in Spain.

The performances make the film, with Bardem in particular magnetic as the self-serving boss who must manage his own failings even as he’s juggling the lives of his employees. Things explode when a simmering affair with a young, new intern named Liliana (Almudena Amor) – one of many attractive employees he appears to have wooed – bubbles over. But Amor and Solo shine here, too, with Aranoa deftly directing an impeccable ensemble so that the entire cast hums in harmony, their interplay bringing the otherwise plodding pace to life.

Where the film struggles is its cadence: it often moves in spurts and starts, with dramatic rises and falls that can feel disjointed. Unlike the aforementioned Severance and Industry, The Good Boss tends to struggle with the point it’s trying to make. Much has happened in the workplace in the 20 years since Mondays in the Sun, yet The Good Boss can come across as a throwback.

Despite all that, Bardem gives the kind of stately, anchoring performance that can just about make up for any shortcomings the film might otherwise face.

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