Javier Bardem essays the title role in The Good Boss, and that is how his character would describe himself. He inherited from his father a factory that makes scales—all sizes and kinds—and presides over a hundred or so workers that he regards as family. But the screenplay, written by director Fernando León de Aranoa, methodically reveals the truth that lurks behind the platitudes and industry awards Bardem is so proud of.
The film opens with a gang of hoodlums beating up a man in a park. One of the miscreants is the son of a longtime employee, so Bardem takes time out of his Sunday to bail the young man out of jail and allay his worker’s concern by giving the boy a job helping his wife, who runs a stylish lingerie shop.
Bardem spends an unusual amount of time and effort taking care of his people, only some of whom are grateful. A worker who has just been laid off turns out to be a loudmouth and troublemaker. Bardem is dismissive of his threats, because until now he hasn’t encountered any problems he can’t handle. But things are about to change.
A social satire like this depends on credibility and de Aranoa never sets a foot wrong, even as his narrative turns darkly funny. Bardem’s world becomes an absurdist comedy, sometimes bordering on farce. But how else could one describe doing business in the 21st century? The uniformed security guard who at the entrance to Bardem’s factory is sympathetic to the laid-off employee and doesn’t understand his boss’s impatience with the man’s daily protests. Logic has no place in a world gone mad.
The Good Boss is a satisfying import that was nominated for a record twenty Goya Awards in Spain last year. It isn’t difficult to see why. The ensemble is strong but Bardem commands the screen in the leading role. It’s a perfect fit for him.
Why don’t American films tackle this kind of story? It’s observational comedy, which seems to elude our native-born filmmakers. Here is how Fernando Leon de Aranoa feels, according to the press notes: “I believe complex and artistically ambitious cinema is possible, one that leaves a record of who we are, of the moment in time in which we live; and that at the same time amuses, intrigues, and moves us, and which does so using humor, at times even being light-hearted, with an edge; but without renouncing engagement, truth or poetry.”