There simply aren’t enough movies combining local and foreign talents on the screen.
This is a sentiment which surfaces immediately upon absorbing My Stupid Boss, the latest project by award-winning Indonesian director Upi Avianto which pits Indonesian superstars against a Malaysian backdrop, complete with local actors filling in supporting roles.
Buzzing with effervescent energy, Falcon Pictures‘ adaptation of Chaos@Work‘s popular novel of the same title is something rather interesting. Set in Kuala Lumpur, a dilapidated Malaysian company called Malaysia Sinar Berhad (MSB) serves as the battlefield for employee Diana (Bunga Citra Lestari) and employer Mr. Bossman’s (Reza Rahadian).
New at work, Diana quickly tires of Mr. Bossman and descends into mania, seeking revenge over his wrongdoing and lack of accountability. Amidst the fear which keeps the office flirt (Bront Palarae), apathetic young administrator (Atikah Suhaime), narcoleptic co-worker (Chew Kin Wah) and religious colleague (Iskandar Zulkarnain) under control, Diana engages in psychological warfare.
Notably, police sirens ring through the air soon after Diana is introduced to her factory staff. Immediately, MSB’s lower-level employees scramble for a place to hide — it seems they’re all illegal workers bar the white-collars. Coupled with the terrible management affecting the company, it all seems like a cleverly-disguised analogy of Malaysia’s state of affairs.
But perhaps there’s no need to look deeper beyond the surface, lest someone gets in trouble.
Heavy on slapstick, My Stupid Boss is Upi Avianto’s first true venture into the realm of comedy. Renowned for such critically-acclaimed character-driven work through Realita, Cinta dan Rock’n Roll (2006), Radit dan Jani (2008), Serigala Terakhir (2009) and Belenggu (2013), Upi pushes for physical comedy in her adaptation — a bold choice aligned with the vision of the source material’s author.
Whether or not Upi’s latest satiates appetites for intelligent writing, it must be noted that her film is an experience of its own.
Her adaptation is sufficiently entertaining, but the very element that makes My Stupid Boss watchable (and it is utterly watchable) is her ensemble. This isn’t down to any single actor in particular, but their diversity and mixed nationalities: cultures and languages clash on screen to delightful effect.
As the loathsome Mr. Bossman, Reza has his Horrible Bosses/Tropic Thunder moment, made to look like anything but himself. Donning a fat suit and muttering in a strange combination of Javanese and Bahasa Indonesia, he is an unshakable presence on the screen. A forgetful, selfish and paranoid kidult, Mr. Bossman is as delirious and hateful as he is entertaining.
Playing foil to him is Bunga’s perky Indonesian expatriate hoping to find work in Malaysia. Diana signs up as clerk at MSB, bored of neighbourhood gossip from the leisure ladies of her condo (short but sweet cameos from Nadiya Nisaa, Shamaine Othman and Sherry Al-Hadad).
Despite her offbeat husband Dika’s (Alex Abbad) attempt at coaching her through her eventual ordeal, Diana’s patience is soon eroded. She begins as an earnest, young ingenue but grows increasingly campy and sadistic.
The clueless bunch of Malaysians in the MSB office also hold their own against the bursts between Diana and Mr. Bossman, particularly Bront and Kin Wah, personifying persistent and jaded respectively as Adrian and Mr. Kho.
Though performances aren’t an issue, it must be said that young actors Iskandar Zulkarnain and Atikah Suhaime don’t quite scale the same heights their more experienced counterparts are capable of reaching with their archetypal roles. While both try earnestly, the latter in particular is lost among her peers due to a lack of physical vocabulary.
Given the thrilling swaps between Indonesian and Malay throughout a mainstream film of this scale, one can’t help but wonder why this casting formula isn’t more common. There’s a lot of satisfaction to derive from regional superstars getting together to make fools of themselves or even perform choreography to Siti Nurhaliza‘s “Cindai” while the boss is out.
It’s the chemistry between Diana and her colleagues in My Stupid Boss which makes on-screen proceedings so riveting.
Even if the film’s fairly low common-denominator style of humour — in one scene, the MSB team is chased through a forest by a wild boar, while in another, Mr. Bossman ruins Mr. Kho’s long-awaited trip to the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya — fails to appease more discerning viewers, there is an uplifting and contagious vibe emanating from each frame.
As such, credit is due to solid art direction led by Ade Gimbal (Apa Artinya Cinta, Guardian). From its colourful, quirky costumes to the impeccable production design, My Stupid Boss is a stylish piece of Asian cinema and a solid reminder of Malaysia’s potential as a cost-effective filming location.
Overlooking matters of taste, there’s not much to be said of the film’s storyline of vengeance and forgiveness. It’s a fairly simplistic tale which doesn’t stray too far from its convenient resolution, and by the end of its runtime, My Stupid Boss comes off an exercise in amusing a mass audience rather than appear as anything cerebral.
This review cannot go on for longer without stumbling into spoilers, so best grab a ticket while the film lasts in cinemas. And we believe it should, at least for a couple of weeks.