It just makes sense that today, my final day of gainful employment with regular paychecks (at least, for the foreseeable future), I would take the time to look back at a movie that does a lot to showcase some of the things about working in the white-collar world. Yes, it’s a satirical, overblown look, but there are clearly things within the moments presented that resonate, which is part of why the film has become a cult classic. So, let’s step back, and look at a Mike Judge film.
Office Space (1999)
First off, if you haven’t seen this film yet, I don’t know if we can be friends. I mean, we can PROBABLY still be friends, but I might have to sit down with you and watch the movie with you. I feel that strongly about it.
If you want to watch it on your own right now, it’s cool. I’ll wait.
Okay, back? Now that we’ve gotten that taken care of, Office Space is a film written and directed by Mike Judge, and was based on one of his cartoons. No, not THAT cartoon. A different one. One starring a character named Milton. Milton is an important part of Office Space, even though his character is almost never the focal point. The story instead follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) through his time as a completely disgruntled employee of Initech. Peter often bemoans his day job, only finding comfort and solace in the moments he spends with his friends, Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), and Michael Bolton (David Herman). He is, of course, terrorized by his coworkers, ranging from an overly chipper receptionist to the caricature of all of the worst management possible, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). Overall, it’s a slice of white-collar life, and Peter is clearly fed up with it all.
Things change when he goes (at his girlfriend’s urging) to see a hypnotherapist. Unfortunately for the doctor, and fortunately for Peter, the hypnotherapist passes away before he can pull Peter out of his state of deep relaxation. The newly relaxed Peter proceeds to spend the next day in bed, ignoring calls from his girlfriend (who leaves him), and from his boss (who was expecting him to work over the weekend). This continues into the next week, as Peter sloughs off of work to pursue a relationship with Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress at a local restaurant.
From that point forward, Peter is shown actually getting positive benefits from consultants brought in to slash the workforce, due to his overall attitude. This culminates in Peter learning that Michael and Samir are on the chopping block, and the three put together a scheme to net themselves a tidy little nest egg while hurting Initech, but in ways that shouldn’t be noticeable. That is, of course, until a misplaced decimal point leads to a total panic. The boys end up returning the money anonymously to the company, which ends up benefitting Milton (who has been the butt of much of Lumbergh’s abuse, and, it turns out, had actually been terminated by the company years before, without anyone actually telling him), who finds the money on his way to burning down the building.
Office Space is a send-up of all of the worst things that people could possibly experience while working in the white-color world, and yet, there are moments that resonate, even if you’ve had the best of all possible bosses. Peter’s admission to the consultants, when they mention his absences from work, that he “hadn’t really been missing it, Bob” strikes chords for anyone who’s ever had a job of any kind. After all, we’ve all certainly had days where the last thing we want to do is go and do what is required to make a living.
Aside from the setting and the way it’s handled, one of the things that helps Office Space stay rooted is truly in the casting. None of the actors really feel out of place in their roles, and a large credit for that goes to the fact that the film wasn’t populated with the traditional Hollywood standard of beauty. Even Aniston is a little dowdy in this film, although she’s definitely falling on the more attractive end of the scale. This makes sense in the grand scheme of things, especially given that, as a waitress, there is often a high value placed on physical appearance. By keeping the cast grounded in the types that wouldn’t seem out of place in an office environment, the film actually finds a way to make the crazy happenings seem a little more grounded.
All told, it’s no real wonder why Office Space has become such a classic, or why it is often quoted. The script is solid, the acting fits the nature of the film, and there’s something to be said about the kind of wish-fulfillment presented in the story. Whether it’s knocking down a cubical wall or the “grass is greener” mentality Peter has towards manual labor, the film resonates.
Besides, who among us hasn’t ever wanted to destroy an office machine that just never does what we need it to do?