It wasn’t until Kay Unger saw the new comedy “Like a Boss” that her son Sam Pitman cowrote that she wondered if some of the inspiration for the film stemmed from her business experience.
Although the film’s leads Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish run their own cosmetics company, Unger saw similarities with her New York-based fashion brand. “I had business partners, I had issues with them, I had one, who stole all the money — there were really amazing parallels,” she said.
The speed of life being what it is, Unger, who also serves as chair of Parsons’ board of governors, hadn’t had the time to have an in-depth conversation about the film with her Los Angeles-based son. Pitman has been engulfed in premieres, at work on new projects with his writing partner Adam Cole-Kelly, and busy with his own three children.
While the film is about a beauty product, it centers on “how it makes you feel, how do you feel beautiful and how do you feel like you?” Unger said. “The interesting thing is that’s really what my clothing was about. It wasn’t the most expensive. It was a great fit, beautiful colors, beautiful fabrics, but mostly it made people feel good. I don’t know if he ever realized or if I ever explained that’s what my company was about. I probably did. So maybe through osmosis. But they came up with this on their own.”
Spoiler alert: the film wraps up with the development of a product called “Proud.” Unger noted, “It’s a fabulous idea that they are proud of who they are. In this day and age, that’s so important. The fact that it’s a black woman and a white woman and they come back together and work closely together to save their relationship and their company is pretty terrific.”
Unger’s professional life took a similar route, in that after starting her own company, she took on a business partner, [the late] Jon Levy “who stole all the money,” forcing her company [the Gillian Group] into bankruptcy in 1995. “He wasn’t willing to work the way you need to work to put it back together. So we went bankrupt and two weeks later I was back in business with my factory in [South] Korea and a man, who used to work with me. I started over and it was great.”
After speaking with WWD, Unger texted her son to see if some of the inspiration had come from her business experience. She later shared his response, “Just how hard you worked and that you were able to be a creative force, while still being a strong businesswoman. For you, it felt that you could have it all, meaning work and kids. But having it all for different women means different things. But largely how were you able to run a huge business and still be a kind person, great friend, great mother, etc. Being great at business doesn’t mean you have to be a b—h.”
Referring to the aforementioned bankruptcy, Pitman text Unger, “With Jon, just how sad that all was and that your kindness was kind of taken advantage of, but that didn’t stop you. You had this huge blow, but then decided the way to not make him win was to start a new business and just keep working hard, like they do in the movie. Kay Unger New York is kinda like Proud, the company they start at the end. Make him not win,” Unger said.
Making the distinction that it in “Like a Boss,” it is a woman [Salma Hayek as Claire Luna,] “who was awful. It wasn’t a man,” Unger said. “Women are great, but they aren’t all great. They’re just like other people.”
The Paramount flick may have struck a chord with moviegoers — “Like a Boss” had generated $10 million in opening-weekend box-office sales as of Monday morning.