Mike Judge hits a homer with hilarious reality
Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, John C. McGinley, Paul Willson, and Todd Duffey
Screenplay: Mike Judge
Producers: Daniel Rappaport and Michael Rotenberg
Director: Mike Judge
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality
I've worked jobs all my life since I turned 16. First in a movie theater, then with a check authorization company, and again with a restaurant and catering supply company. I have quit each one, usually within a year of working at them. I've never been fired (at least at the time of this writing), although I have wondered what it would be like to get fired. In fact, at one of my jobs (the movie theater), I intentionally slacked off, goofed around, and did everything I could to get fired. After all, I would either have to be fired, or wait the two weeks after putting in notice of my resignation. Needless to say, they didn't fire me. Instead, they promoted me to supervisor. My first thought was, "What the hell?" For three months after that, I continuously arrived late for work, did as little as I possibly could, and let my fellow employees do whatever they wanted. It was pointless... I had just wasted three months of what could have taken only two weeks. So, I quit the next day.
What relevance does this have to reviewing the film Office Space? If you have ever worked in your entire life, it is more than likely you will find something so familiar here that you have to laugh at it. The above experience I just described is virtually the same thing portrayed in Office Space. In fact, it became so similar that bad memories started to flood back into my mind. Again, I laughed. I laughed a lot, and so did the audience I attended the screening with. Here is a film that almost requires you to have worked in an office before seeing it. Otherwise, you may just not get its wicked sense of humor.
Plot is virtually irrelevant here, since what Mike Judge, the writer/director, tries to do is to create a biting satire of office politics. Unfortunately, Judge felt he needed a plot, and stuck one in just for the hell of it. It seems rather tacked on, coming off as forced rather than natural. In fact, the plot hinders the film from achieving the kind of greatness it could have pulled off. As a satire, it works from start to finish. As a caper comedy, it fails miserably. As a love story, it's just plain silly.
The plot centers around Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a lonely and depressed citizen who goes to work every day and really hates what he does. Peter hates his job more than anything. At one point, he admits, "Each day of work is progressively worse than the day before, so everytime you see me, that's the worst day of my life." He works at Initech, a company specializing in upgrading banks' computers to being Y2K compliant. Supposedly, he must go through thousands of lines of code and update each one to the four-digit-year standard. Certainly this doesn't sound exciting, but what is? That's not his problem, however. Instead, he absolutely hates the fact that he has eight different bosses, each of which explain to him the same thing he's already heard before. The most dreaded of them all is Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), a monotonous and unemotional hybrid of every single bad manager anyone has ever had. He appears to be a nice fellow, but lurking under the surface is, in fact, the devil incarnate.
Trying to even get to work proves impossible. The film opens with one of the funniest scenes in the film, as Peter manages his way through the crowded commute. The only real problem with the scene is that it is surprisingly toned down. Anyone else in the same situation (or at least in Utah) would be cursing, swearing, and giving everyone else the finger. For about 45 minutes, the film goes without plot. It's mostly an observation of the work place, and how hideous it can be. Peter decides to see a hypnotherapist to get over his hatred of work. While in session, the hypnotherapist dies, leaving Peter in an unusual state of relaxation. To put it simply, he doesn't give a damn anymore. "I think it would just be fun to get fired," he comments without a hint of regret. And that's exactly what he tries to do.
This is all fine and dandy, but very quickly a caper subplot begins to develop, and it's as if Judge couldn't come up with any more original ideas. Peter, along with his two friends Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael (David Herman), plan a simple scheme to rob the company of a lot of money. Something goes wrong, and the three must figure out a way to fix everything.
Mike Judge is one talented man. He has produced two hit TV series (the potty-mouthed Beavis and Butthead and the humorous King of the Hill) but neither of those two approach this film's level of intelligence. Adapted from his "Milton" cartoons, he focuses not on Milton, but on Peter, who is a more charismatic guy. Milton is present in the film, played with hilarious gusto by Stephen Root, and he is rather essential to the plot. But Judge realizes that in order for audiences to laugh, they need a sympathetic character to root for. Peter is just that person: an average-looking fellow with no point to his existence.
The cast is a delight, especially up-and-coming star Ron Livingston. While almost every other character is more quirky, Livingston holds the film up by making us care for him. His performance is the best in the film, despite the flashy roles of others in the cast. Jennifer Aniston virtually sheds her Friends persona in a hilarious performance that will have everyone laughing in knowing recognition. David Herman is also funny as the man whose name (Michael Bolton) gets him more prestige than anything else. Ajay Naidu is good, but he doesn't seem to know what to do in his role. Deidrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) is funny as the nosy neighbor who can hear Peter's affairs through the wall. But the scene stealer is Gary Cole in an incredibly realistic and dead-on imitation of your worst manager. He's absolutely hilarious. Stephen Root does what so many actors aren't able to do: make the wretched and annoying appealing to watch. Root is terrific as Milton.
Office Space is essentially the Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the working men and women of today. The main character decides that he wants to control his own life, tries to get fired, but ends up getting promoted. Two consultants (both named Bob) are brought in to evaluate the workers, and in a shining example of cynicism, Peter seriously announces that he does as little work as humanly possible. "I work about fifteen minutes in your average work week," he tells the two Bobs (John C. McGinley and Paul Willson). Mike Judge's screenplay is full of witty one-liners that will be spouted right and left throughout offices for quite a long time. The best? "It appears that you've been missing quite a bit of work lately," one Bob says. "I wouldn't say I've been missing it much," he responds. It's a line of sheer perfection and it works very well.
Office Space is rated R for language and brief sexuality. The brief sexuality comes in the form of a dream sequence involving Lumbergh and Joanne (Aniston), which is played as much for laughs as anything else in the film. What kind of hell is it to have to come home from work and have nightmares about work? The reason you go home is to escape the daily routines of work. Judge has crafted a fine piece of satire here, never once indulging in the potty humor that he is so well-known for. It's a plea for humanity (or more specifically, the employee), and Judge hits the target more often than not. Too bad for that tacked-on crime subplot.
*** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie