On this side of the Atlantic, we expect our comedies to at least pay some lip service to “woke.” Even the cringe-worthy ones.
So an “Office” comedy like “Jefe,” from Spain, should best be compared to say the BRITISH version of “The Office,” with Ricky Gervais, and not the more squishy, pathetic “Office” run by Michael Scott (Steve Carell). We feel sorry for that clueless jerk Michael Scott. We never, ever feel sorry for the loathsome David Brent.
Well, I didn’t, anyway.
Imagine that guy taken to tyrannical, drug-abusing, homophobic, sexist and physically-abusive extremes, name him César and make him Spanish, and that’s the boss in “Jefe,” a Spanish comedy that tests our tolerance in who we’re supposed to root for.
Because this puerco isn’t likeable, not for a second. Even showing the hell César (Luis Callejo of “The Fury of a Patient Man”) goes through just to make to the office on Monday doesn’t make him sympathetic.
He berates staff in the morning meeting. That balance sheet problem, the taxes suddenly due, the inspectors who will see the game is up just by glancing at their books? That’s worth an impulse firing, some homophobic put-downs as her literally “kicknny” (on the bottom) one guy out.
Because nothing is ever César’s fault. Snorting coke and knocking back Red Bulls, he figures he can browbeat/bully/tough his way through this debacle.
“I will not LEAVE THE OFFICE until this company’s safe!” he declares (in Spanish with English subtitles, or dubbed if you prefer).
He’s so unpleasant that it’s no wonder that his wife hires somebody to tell him she’s kicking him out of the house. Not a lawyer, either. It’s a somewhat effeminate “Bad News Messenger” (Adam Jezierski, funny) who shows up with that bad news, and with talking points for César’s inevitable push-back.
She’s demanding alimony, the house and custody of their son, and that’s that.
Conversely, when he gets César’s fiery reply, Charly the Messanger has to deliver HIS bad news to her. And César is very particular about how his counter-offer comes off.
“Say it like a man! Make her CRY!”
That’s the first funny scene in the movie. There aren’t many that follow.
He ran his business into the ground by firing anybody who told him “the truth,” keeping only yes-women and “ass-kissers.”
But spending all night, every night in the office for this torturous week, he finds consolation. He hides from Ariana (Juana Acosta) when he first sees her (he’s not dressed). And she puts on a show — calling home to Colombia on the company phone, rummaging through everyone’s desk drawers, vacuuming in the buff.
And using his shower.
Callejo, Acosta, director Sergio Barrejón and screenwriter Natxo López wring a few laughs out of this dated male wish-fulfillment fantasy portion of the picture.
But office intrigues eat up most of the third act, and as there’s no way a Western audience (except for a terribly sexist one) is rooting for this pene, that’s kind of a shame.
A story arc suggested by Ariana’s line, “Imagine your problems if you were a woman,” isn’t developed. There’s no “growth” here. Summoning César to a secret meeting in the third act shows him just as awful as he’s been since the first act.
“You’ll need a roofie if you intend to rape me…Hey, I respect WOMEN. Pretty, fat, ugly, old, lesbians…”
It’ll take funnier lines, funnier scenes and a funnier lead performance to make this guy amusingly loathsome, or even amusing.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, nudity, sex, slurs, profanity
Cast: Luis Callejo, Juana Acosta, Carlo D’Ursi, Josean Bengoetxea, Maika Barroso, Bárbara Santa-Cruz
Credits: Directed by Sergio Barrejón, script by Natxo López. A Neflix Original.
Running time: 1:29