Friday, January 08, 2010

WORK SUCKS: Office Space

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) isn’t very happy with his life. He works for Initech, a software company that suffers from that endemic late-twentieth-century corporate problem: too much frickin’ management.

The management culture at Initech is personified by Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), a man whose ingratiating conversational opener "So, [staff member’s name], what’s happening" is inevitably a prelude to dumping on said employee. Lumbergh has a yuppie haircut and wears coloured shirts with white collars. His tie and braces seldom match. He wanders round the office, coffee cup in hand, leaning up against water coolers and partitions while he doles out bollockings for minor things or ruins your plans for the weekend ("yeah, uh, I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday"). He’s like David Brent gone to the dark side and not bothered about wanting people to like him.


Lumbergh and Initech are the main reasons Peter isn’t very happy with his life. Mind you, his colleagues are equally put-upon. Michael Bolton (David Herman) is saddled with the same name as a singer he doesn’t even like (he tries, ineffectually, to get people to call him Mike instead). Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) has a bad case of nerves and gets agitated at the constant mispronunciations of his surname. Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) is a mumbling, complaining, "not my job type" who gets het up whenever he’s asked to move desks and obsesses over his stapler.



Adding to Peter’s woes are relationship problems with his girlfriend Anne (Alexandra Wentworth) and impending cutbacks signalled when Lumbergh brings in downsizing consultants Bob Porter (Paul Willson) and Bob Slydell (John C. McGinley) – chummily known as "The Bobs". The Bobs stage a round of interviews designed identify suitable candidates for redundancy. The first victim is Milton. The Bobs discover he was actually laid off years ago but kept turning up for work; a payroll error whereby he continued to be paid is swiftly "corrected" in the hope that he’ll take the hint and vamoose.

Anne insists on Peter attending a hypnotherapy session. When the therapist suffers a heart attack while Peter is still under hypnosis, the result changes his life. He sleeps soundly and placidly through an entire weekend while Lumbergh jams up his answerphone with messages cordially reminding him he was supposed to be at work. Peter awakes to a clarity of vision: he decides not to bother with work, or waste anymore time on his relationship with Anne. He chats up coffee shop waitress Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), then moseys into the office to collect his personal belongings.

Nobody takes his declarations that he’s quit seriously, and he finds himself steered into a meeting room for his tete-a-tete with the Bobs. They mistake his insouciant and sarcastic attitude for creative, outside-the-box thinking and mark him down as management material.


Peter responds to his new role by committing minor acts of vandalism around the office and stealing Lumbergh’s parking space. Unfortunately, though, his ascendancy through the Initech ranks isn’t enough to safeguard Mike and Samir from redundancy, so the threesome forge a plot to defraud the company.

‘Office Space’ was released in 1999 (to very little interest at the box office). It could have been made a decade earlier and succeeded as a spoof of/corrective to ‘Wall Street’. It could have debuted a decade later and still scored points about corporationism, downsizing and management culture. I’m surprised nobody re-released it at the height of the "credit crunch" media hyperbole a year ago.

Written and directed by Mike Judge – of ‘Beavis and Butthead’ fame – and expanded from his ‘Milton’ cartoons – ‘Office Space’ has a small-scale look to it which perhaps accounts for its poor performance on the big screen. There was criticism in some quarters that it was too episodic, particularly in its first half where the script resembles an interlinked sequence of sketches rather than an actual narrative. Personally, I prefer the narrativeless vignettes of the first half, particularly a gleefully cathartic bit of wish-fulfilment where Peter, Mike and Samir vent their frustrations on a malfunctioning printer by taking it outside and beating seven different kinds of circuitry out of it. Scored to ‘Still’ by the Geto Boys, the scene proved iconic enough to merit a ‘Family Guy’ parody.





Judge’s portrait of office life may be painted in broad strokes on a small canvas, but it’s nevertheless wincingly accurate. From Milton’s interminable whining (his complaints invariably meaningless) to the caffeine-addled temp who responds to anything less than full-on perky enthusiasm with a cry of "Someone’s got a case of the Mondays"; from the oleaginous Lumbergh (every inch the company man, but whose job requires that never actually does anything) to the Bobs trying to present an affable front when everyone knows they’re hatchet men; from the boxy little cubicles to the wasteful circulation of pointless memos, ‘Office Space’ nails the bland, bureaucratically-blinkered aesthetic of the contemporary workplace. It doesn’t have the desperation or the biting anger of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, but that’s not Judge’s remit. ‘Office Space’ is a work of satire, and its director is savvy enough to know that sometimes just observing can be satirical enough.

7 comments:

J.D. said...

Ah, where to even begin with this brilliant film. A must-see for anyone who's held down a mundane 9-to-5 cubicle job. There are just so many memorable moments and lines of dialogue in this film (basically anything Gary Cole says), like the two Bobs gushing over their love of Michael Bolton the singer to Michael Bolton the office worker, much to the latter's discomfort. I love how John C. McGinley says at one point, "I celebrate his entire catalog!"

Or, another memorable exchange when Bob Porter says to Peter, "Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately," to which Peter replies, "Well, I wouldn't exactly say I've been missing it, Bob." Plus, Mike Judge deserves kudos for putting "no talent ass-clown" into popular culture. Classic stuff.

Troy Olson said...

Never before has a movie understood the pain of having to use a work printer, whether it be the ubiquitous paper jam or "PC Load Letter."

This is a great, fun movie, one I've never got tired of watching. Sure, Judge makes his brushes kind of broad, but if you've ever worked in the corporate environment (even if you work at a company like mine, which I actually enjoy working at) then you've seen at least a tinge of the characters and events that are in the movie.

Neil Fulwood said...

J.D. - the scenes with The Bobs are priceless. I've been through that "hi, Neil, have a seat and justify your job" interview before and I had to bite my tongue and think of the mortgage not to make a barrage of satirical comments.

Troy - where I'm working at the moment, we have an equally recalcitrant printer. The fact that I don't own a baseball bat is probably the only reason it's still in existence.

The Film Connoisseur said...

There was a time when I felt like this movie was the story of my life! That scene with the hypno therapy, I swear, had they done that to me, my negative energies would have killed the guy doing the therapy! Ha!

I havent revisited this one since its first release, and it still being talked about. I need to rewatch this one ASAP.

Also, people might get this one more now, with shows like The Office. I wonder if theres a The Office movie in the works?

Ellie said...

Great review! It's really worth reading. Thanks for the share. Keep it up and more power!

Ellie

office space

craig said...

well written article for that movie. It is fun to read.

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New York Office space

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