90 Minute Movies – Office Space (1999) #movies #comedy
A studio executive once told the director Mike Judge that his movie was boring and lacked energy, which is ironic if you think about it, because the movie itself critiques every clueless executive in America. Office Space is about the bleak life of Peter Gibbons and his dream of doing nothing, telling his boss where to stick it, and not caring. Peter’s workplace Initech has a group of people so cynical that nothing seems capable of helping them, which is an exaggerated form of comedy that works really well, and becomes more hilariously self-deprecating with each passing minute.
The reason this comedy works is that it’s got elements everyone can relate to. Many jobs are boring and dumb. A lot of bosses say and do stupid stuff. Most of us can think of a time when we had to work really, really hard with no recognition or reward. The movie makes fun of the concept of the corporate culture, really only touching on the stupidness of it, as it forces everyday people into little cubicals and categories with hopes of making a buck. This is the perfect landscape for comedy.
The main character Peter only has to contrast the corporate culture and the movie strikes comedy gold. He begins not caring about his job and starts telling it like it is, so he gets promoted. His boss is the worst kind of annoying human on Earth and talks like it too. You can only find this kind of thing in a farce, and I think Office Space is only a step away from a movie like Airplane (1985), with its nonsensical parody of an airliner. Still, there’s always some truth in these kinds of situational comedies.
I think exaggerated comedies exist to elicit an emotional response, like Airplane does about dumb stewardesses or stupid pilots. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) also works along the same lines to parody the educational system. I think this is also why Seinfeld works so well, since it targets popular culture and everyone’s familiar social problems—and those problems we hope we never have. One of the more popular episode arcs is when George starts working for Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. Steinbrenner is as clueless as Lumberg in Office Space. The parallel is almost exact, except for Steinbrenner being portrayed as wacky and out-there.
There are some really funny moments in Office Space, most of which are famous. The bit with Milton and his stapler caused Swingline to being making a red version in order to satisfy customer demand. You can still buy one. To me, the most funny scenes are either the TPS reports scenes or the interview scene of Peter and the consultants, who are trying to downsize Initech.
Roger Ebert gave this film 3 out of 4 stars and I agree, it deserves it. It’s just not hilariously funny anymore because I’ve seen Office Space clips one-thousand times already. I envy people seeing it for the first time. Ebert complements the dialogue and I agree with that too. Amazing, I agree with him on two things. The little cultural jokes are even funnier to me, like mention of Superman III when referring to a plan to defraud Initech. “Yeah, they tried that in Superman III…that movie is underrated…”. Hilarious.
Overall, this movie works and is a classic. The cubical is ripe for comedy and director Mike Judge emphasizes the situational stupidness of this environment. He exaggerates everyone’s personality traits and makes the printer an evil villain, which is great fun. He even touches on stupid nuances from people too, like communication and class issues. The movie hits a raw nerve because we all feel we are unappreciated and under-compensated, and I think this movie will continue to be an inspiration for comedy for years to come.