Monday, January 16, 2017

Office Space

"Man was not meant to sit in a cubicle" states Peter, our hero in 1999's OFFICE SPACE.  But I'll bet many of you, invisible audience, have been there.  Maybe you're reading this from one right now.  Maybe my blog is a respite from the soullessness of the fluorescent light drenched hell in which you toil.  A place where falsetto voiced secretaries answer endlessly ringing telephones and cuff linked managers saunter around ensuring that their slaves follow protocols.  Some of which involve the most minute details about say, cover sheets. Or how icons line up on your desktop monitor.

Peter (Ron Livingston) is a computer programmer at Initech, who is greatly depressed by the sights and sounds around him but feels powerless to change anything.  He lives in a drab apartment complex comprised of hundreds of identical units.  Lunch is usually at the T.G.I Friday's type chain restaurant that serves things like fried jalapenos drenched in a condiment partially made of some alcoholic beverage. But one night Peter attends a hypnotherapy session.  He leaves with a newfound sense of ...extreme apathy.  A real peace and confidence he's never known before.

He begins skipping work. And loving it.  When he does show up, he cavalierly brushes past his smarmy boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), previously the bane of his existence.  His co-worker buds, including a guy named Michael Bolton ("It used to be a cool name, before that no talent ass clown became famous"), think he's lost his mind.  Maybe he has, and all the better!  He seems unconcerned with potential consequences, including a lack of money.  But when some corporate types are brought in to downsize the office, they  observe his casual attitude and blatant honesty as an asset, as "upper management material".   It's as if Peter is a sort of Chauncey Gardiner in their eyes.

And I wish writer/director Mike Judge, best known for Beavis & Butthead, had traveled that idea further. Taken this amusing notion to some conclusion.  A minor classic could've been made out of these ideas, but instead they dead end into a tired plot involving penny shaving, or diverting fractions of pennies that will eventually accumulate into large amounts.  Initech won't notice the small increments on a daily basis, it is decided.  "You know, like in SUPERMAN III", the guys reason.

Too bad. OFFICE SPACE might've truly been the anti-establishment classic it's reputed to be.  And even though there are many great Dilbert-like gags that anyone who's ever worked in an office will appreciate, the film falls flat too often.  Jennifer Aniston is also just so-so as the waitress forever frustrated by all the silly buttons, or "flair" she has to sport at a place called Chotchkie's, clearly modeled after Friday's.  She eventually becomes Peter's girlfriend but their chemistry is practically nil.

No one will ever mistake Judge for a master satirist.  He's clearly a very intelligent and insightful guy but his movies (including IDIOCRACY) too often willingly take the low road to make salient points.  He wants to have it both ways - easy crude humor along with more lofty barbs at corporate structure.  OFFICE SPACE is still worth seeing, if only for the plight of poor Milton and the GOODFELLAS homage involving a doomed printer.

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