Office Space review by Tom Blain
It was 1999, and I felt like I discovered something. I was one of the few people to rush out to see Office Space when it opened in theatres. My anticipation was based off of one or two funny commercials and wanting to see the next semi-independent production with Swingers actor Ron Livingston. I was probably one of even fewer to see it three times while it was in theatres. While I laughed my butt off and paid my for my fair share of theatre tickets it made just enough money to cover its $10 million budget, and was pretty much a box office blunder. For a while it had looked this little gem would go by unnoticedthat is until the video release. Word of mouth pulled this little ditty out of the dumper and onto personal entertainment centers across the land. Watercooler conversations, began with a drawling Yeaaaah.. White guys started listening to more gangsta rap. People were laughing about their dull jobs. And alas, there was justice for such a perfect movie.
Office Space is about a software developer named Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) who is just plain bored with his life. Like many of us, he is caught in a dead-end cubicle job. The pay is good enough for him to live comfortably, but there is little upward mobility and he often has to waste his weekends at work. One day he visits a hypnotherapist with his girlfriend and falls under a trance that relieves him of all of all his responsibilities; including his job. Peter finally does whatever it is he wants to do, which includes saying whats on his mind, skipping out on work, letting bills go, and most importantly asking out the lovely waitress at Chotchskys, Joanna (Jennifer Aniston). You would think this type of behavior would get Peter in trouble. But instead he receives a raise and promotion because a pair of corporate layoff specialists known as The Bobs are wowed by his straight shooting attitude. While his two hardworking best friends are going to get laidoff, he is moving up the corporate ladder by doing nothing.
So our hero Peter pretty much lives out the desires of everyone in the movie theatre by doing what he wants and sticking it to the man. He and his soon-to-be laid-off buddies hatch a plan that should keep them out of the poor house for a long time. But eventually Peter pays for his sloth, vanity, and greed as his plans fall apart, he faces possible jail time and he loses Joanna (insert frowny face).
The true joys of this film will only be found by people who work in 6x6 cubicles and listen to middle managers spew industry jargon and power words all day long. Peters nagging monotone boss, Bill Lumbergh (the unforgettable Gary Cole), can be found at any middle-sized corporation in the U.S. Guys like Smykowski (Richard Reihle) who work themselves into an early grave by worrying about their jobs more then they work, are a dime a dozen. The truth of the matter is any of the characters in this film can be mapped back to people I work with on a day to day basis. Its pretty scray.
Director Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead fame) must have not only done his homework but lived the life of an engineer. He knows what its like to have three layers of middle management between him and his boss. He knows what its like to have to fill out useless reports. And he also knows what it feels like to hear from multiple managers when you make one insignificant error in some process report. Everything down to that damn Print Load Letter paper jam that nobody seems to get or be able to fix.
This movie, to me, seemed ahead of its time. Done in 1999, it dealt with the tech business layoff fever a year or two before I dealt with it myself. I was still in college when it came out and my mouth was frothing at the opportunity to land a big fat software job in the year 2000. Luckily for me, I caught the end of the waive and was hired into a Fortune 500 company two months before they began laying off engineers left and right. I never had to deal with The Bobs but I had to hear terms like corporate reshuffling, witness friends and fellow employees being escorted out by security, and see their jobs taken at half price by contractors overseas in Asia and Eastern Europe. At times, watching Office Space seems too close to real life.
Judge not only lambastes the tech industry but just suburban life in general. He shows us the agony and futility of the morning commute; and how we waste about 10% of our lives each week waiting in traffic. All the young techs live drab white walled apartments or townhomes with names like Morningwood (a clever Beavis and Butthead reference). If you are a higher up manager you live in a suburban track home identical to your neighbors with your own patch of sodded front yards. Even the restaurants the characters eat at are near carbon copies. Whats the difference between Fridays, or Applebees, or Chotchskys, or Flingers? Not a damn thing other then the name.
In the end, the lovely Joanna gives Peter some words of advice. Paraphrased, Few people love their jobs. Sometimes you just have to go out there and do you work and hope that maybe you can find something that makes you happy. Peter eventually does figure out what he wants to do with his life (for the meantime), and things fall into place. This is the true justice of the film. Not everyone out there loves their jobs. The key to surviving is finding something in it to love or move on to something that you enjoy more. Office Space has become a comfort movie for me over the years. After a bad day at work, I can escape to this fantasy world at Initech where our hero Peter tells his boss to piss off, and tosses fish guts on process laden T.P.S. reports. If Hollywood is all about putting our dreams on screen, I think for my money, it doesnt get much better than this simple little comedy.
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