At one point in “The Good Boss,” Julio Blanco, the owner of Básculas Blanco, a manufacturer of scales (as in, you know, weighing things), says to his wife and some guests at a dinner party, “You need to understand that this week is complicated.”
It sure is, and one of those complications is seated at the table, a lanky, rather lascivious intern named Liliana. The actress who plays her, Almudena Amor, has an Almodóvar face waiting to happen. This is fitting, as “The Good Boss” is a Spanish comedy that’s also a character study and not without its dark moments. It takes place over the course of that complicated week.
Another complication is a laid-off employee, Jose (Óscar de la Fuente). Although not at the table, he’s even more on Blanco’s mind than Liliana is. Jose has set up camp across from the Blanco factory, with a bullhorn and protest banners. Occupy Wall Street? No, Occupy Básculas Blanco.
This is particularly vexing because a panel of experts is set to pay a visit, to see whether the company should win a prize for business excellence. There’s also the matter of Miralles (Manolo Solo), the head of production. Miralles is seriously distracted, so much so as to create all sorts of problems on the factory floor. The cause of the distraction is his wife’s infidelity — not that he’s exactly innocent himself, adultery-wise.
These elements partake of farce, but for much of its two hours “The Good Boss” is so coolly understated as not to seem all that funny. This isn’t a problem, since the writer-director, Fernando León de Aranoa, moves things along at a steady clip. Call it a comic canter. Once the comedy does kick in, around the 100-minute mark, it does so quite nastily. The movie never quite recovers.
The title “The Good Boss” is meant to be ironic. The irony doesn’t altogether come through because it’s Javier Bardem playing the boss. Even when Blanco behaves badly — and he does, he does — you don’t really hold it against him. Bardem is that appealing, a bundle of cunning and charm and low-grade relentlessness. That the actor has the look of a sexy basset hound doesn’t hurt either. Bardem’s been on a roll. Last fall, he was the best thing in “Dune,” as Stilgar, the Fremen leader. Then he earned a best actor Oscar nomination, playing Desi Arnaz, in “Being the Ricardos.” There’s some Desi in Blanco. That’s easy enough to notice. What isn’t is that there’s some Stilgar, too.
For better and worse, Bardem throws “The Good Boss” off balance. That’s the price you pay for star power, something he has in abundance. Not that imbalance is irrelevant to the Básculas Blanco story. “I remember what my father used to say,” Blanco says. “Sometimes you have to trick the scale to get the exact weight.”
THE GOOD BOSS
Written and directed by Fernando León de Aranoa. Starring Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, Óscar de la Fuente. At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 120 minutes. Unrated (as R: sexual situations, language). In Spanish, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.