Monday, November 5, 2012

Office Space (1999) : Go Ahead and Watch It

Office Space is a cult classic of sorts, with its many fans able to quote lines verbatim because it's got such a sharp, dry script. The dialogue given to the really, really annoying boss played by Gary Cole is the most memorable of all: say to anyone who's seen this film 'I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to come in over the weekend' and they'll know exactly what you're talking about. It's one of the best films ever made about the irritations of working life, somewhat akin in spirit to Douglas Coupland's book Microserfs and surprisingly witty considering it was made by Mike Judge, who created Beavis and Butt-head.

The corporate world of work presented here is an unmitigated hell, filled with unwanted conversations with boring, pathetic people obsessed with inane matters like cover sheets, and queasy meetings with bosses and consultants. The film has an adolescent attitude to work perhaps, but its humour is so acute that it works. Judge plugs right into that feeling of shock and horror you get in your late teens or early 20's when you have to enter the world of full-time work for the first time and everything about it makes your skin crawl; somehow the world has been organised so that sympathetic characters like Peter (Ron Livingston) - and you and I - have to do the bidding of the corporate androids just to stay alive.

The plot really gets going when Peter goes to an occupational hypnotist and tells him 'Ever since I started working, every day has been worse than the day before'. The therapist tries to cure him but drops down dead mid-session, leaving Peter in a permanently hypnotised state, which has its benefits since it allows him to make all kinds of positive changes to his life. Soon he's not going into work very often, and when he does he's driving right into the boss' reserved parking space. He's also soon got Jennifer Aniston as a girlfriend; she plays Joanna, a restaurant waitress who has her own very irritating supervisor and an annoying colleague who loves the sound of his own voice.

Along with his colleagues Michael (David Herman) and Samir (Ajay Naidu) hypnotised Peter hatches a plan to siphon money off from the company accounts and get rich quick. The second half of the film revolves around how it all goes horribly wrong. But the main strength of the film is its incidental humour, not its plot. There are the bosses who insist you must be thinking 'Is this good for the company?' 24 hours a day. There's the experience of constantly meeting new people who either can't pronounce your name or who, if you're unfortunate enough to be the namesake of a celebrity like Michael Bolton, trot out the same old 'humorous' comments every time. The film makes you realise (or re-realise) this is not the way the world is supposed to be. It also makes wonderfully humorous use of violent Gangsta Rap music, such as when Michael sits in his car at his beginning singing along to a rap song but rushes to lock his door when a black man passes by, or when the three friends smash up a fax machine, and the shots from the 'victim's' point of view make it look like a severe beating delivered by a bunch of Goodfellas.

In the end the point is that the world is divided into those who say, or at least think it's acceptable to say, in a patronising tone of voice: 'Sounds like somebody's got a bad case of the Mondays' and those who do not. When Peter asks a friend, who works in the construction industry, whether anyone says that to him on a Monday morning if he's not bright and chirpy, the friend looks shocked and horrified, and says no certainly not, because if they did they'd get a kicking. In offices, however, people get away with this kind of thing. Valuing very highly the feeling of being allowed to be who he really is, Peter eventually ends up as a construction worker just like his friend. It may be the only solution!


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