Friday, September 2, 2011

Very Funny, Office Space Deserves Its Role As A Cult Classic Workplace Comedy!

The Good: Funny, Decent acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Light on character development
The Basics: Office Space is an enjoyable film and is worth watching, but is more of a novelty that is unlikely to hold up over many, many viewings.

With my recently losing another office job - this time because of August downsizing, apparently - my wife thought it was time we took in Office Space together. I, honestly, had been wary of it. After all, there are so many cult classic films that have not lived up for me. Monty Python And The Holy Grail and The Nightmare Before Christmas (reviewed here!) were quoted to me so extensively before I ever saw either that I was bored watching them (the "Monty Python" work is one I have gone back to and been able to appreciate) and some movies, like Garden State I find myself on the opposite side of public opinion in thinking they just weren't that good. Knowing Office Space was such a revered movie, I was hesitant to watch it on the chance that it ended up as yet another cult classic that disappointed me.

Fortunately, the movie lived up to most of the hype surrounding it. It is funny, the characters are quirky and there is enough of a plot to make it more than just a collection of catch phrases strung together to fill the ninety minutes the film is supposed to be. Office Space is on the short end of the spectrum, but it is easy to see why it captured the attention of so many people over the years.

Peter Gibbons hates his job working for Initech where he is rewriting software for the Y2K changeover when he isn't busy zoning out at his desk. He is tired of management coming down on him for the occasional human error and when his girlfriend leaves him after she takes him to an occupational hypnotherapist who dies during the session, Peter shrugs it off. In fact, as a result of the hypnosis, he stops stressing work and asks the waitress he has had a crush on, Joanna, out on a date. When Initech brings in a pair of consultants to trim the fat, Peter is able to be completely honest with them, which puts his boss, Bill, in a bad light.

But Peter's honest comes with a price: the Bobs want to promote him, but they also want to fire most of his friends. So, Peter goes to Michael Bolton and Samir and convinces them to pull the computer scam from Superman 3 in order to get money from the company. But when the half-pennies they swipe from transaction fees are put together, the check is much bigger than they suspected and they find themselves in new levels of trouble.

Office Space wonderfully attacks capitalism and pits human free will against the forces that keep us in our places. Arguably, it makes the more practical point that it is important for each of us to find the right place to work, but the resolution makes the case that with enough money any one of us could find true happiness. Or maybe the point is that most people will be able to complain about anything, regardless of how much money they have. Either way, the idea that finding the right fit with employment so that one does not hate their lives is important and a theme of Office Space. It's one of the reasons I am happy to have a blog: it's one of the ways I enjoy writing and find joy in this life. I suppose for characters like Peter, they have to go through a process to learn these things.

The film balances the workplace story well with the budding relationship between Peter and Joanna. While the romantic relationship is a little predictable for the plot progression, it works to make Peter seem less isolated in the world at a time when he is supposed to be coming into his own. That works nicely. Similarly, the scenes wherein Joanna struggles at her workplace for getting unclear directions from her supervisor makes her seem viable in her own right.

Office Space has a magnificent cast, but more than that, it uses the cast remarkably well. Jennifer Aniston steals her scenes as Joanna and Ron Livingston holds the movie together as Peter. In fact, for the first time in a work with him that I can recall, I saw Livingston as a viable performer in his own right. Historically, I have seen him on screen and his performance has reminded me of Kyle MacLachlan. Here, Livingston is distinct in his own right and he carries the mellow quality that Peter needs after he is hypnotized remarkably well.

The cast is rounded out by Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader, John C. McGinley and Richard Riehl, who all give great supporting performances to make Office Space a viable microcosm. The strange office world and equally strange real life outside it play well because of these actors with their individual idiosyncrasies. No one has more quirks than Stephen Root's Milton. The mumbling, pushed-around worker is the iconic role of Office Space and Root has a way of making the character pitiable and likable, later channeling much of this part for his role in True Blood Season One (reviewed here!).

Ultimately, Office Space is funny and it makes good points on the importance of finding a job one can live with, but there is little to it outside that message. Mike Judge does an admirable job writing and directing the film, but virtually all of the salient points were in the trailer and the film does not have much to it beyond those points. Still, the film is worth watching.

For other movies set in a workplace, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses
Glengarry Glen Ross
Cedar Rapids


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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