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Review: Office Space (1999)

Office Space (1999)

Directed by: Mike Judge

Premise: An office employee (Ron Livingston) hates his job. After a visit to a hypnotist, he stops taking his work so seriously and leads his coworkers (David Herman and Ajay Naidu) in a plot to embezzle money from the company coffers.
What Works: When it was released in 1999, Office Space died at the box office. The film later accrued a dedicated fan base in part because of its frequent broadcast on cable television. (In the early 2000s, this film seemed to air daily on Comedy Central.)  Office Space resonated with its audience because it was so in touch with the realities and eccentricities of cubical workplaces. While the technology of the film has dated, the central ideas of the story and the experiences and anxieties of the characters remain relevant. Office Space begins with a man who hates his job. From a distance, his work isn’t so terrible. The office is a safe and clean environment and he has a few friends there. But the work itself is soulless and the film touches upon the feeling of uselessness and nihilism that can fester in a sterile workplace. One of the peculiar details of Office Space is the lack of any exposition about the company. It’s not really clear what services or products the company provides. And that is part of the point. Office Space is about the mental and spiritual torpor of a midlevel white collar job. This is a sophisticated idea for a comedy to take on and the filmmakers surround that high-minded concept with sophomoric humor that makes it accessible. Office Space also picks up on the little details of white collar work such as the frustrations with technology, the artificial drama over trivial matters, and the suspicion of management. These details give Office Space a feeling of authenticity. The movie is also really funny. The film incorporates a variety of humor from comedy of errors to slapstick and the jokes consistently land. Its witty script makes Office Space one of Hollywood’s most quotable comedies.

What Doesn’t: Office Space was written and directed by Mike Judge who had previously created Beavis and Butthead and later helmed the feature film Idiocracy and the television show Silicon Valley. Judge’s filmmaking has a distinctive style and there are consistent flaws throughout his work. The plotting of Office Space is loose and the filmmakers inject an idea late in the story to concoct an ending. The film isn’t really driving toward that conclusion and it is a deus ex machina resolution. The rest of Office Space is mostly a series of skits. Comedy allows for a looser narrative structure. Spotty plotting is generally forgivable so long as the movie is funny and Office Space is very funny. More troubling is the soft sexism of Office Space. Some of that is deliberate and self-aware, as the movie is partly about men and masculinity, but some of it isn’t. It’s never enough to ruin the movie but the sexism is there nevertheless.

DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes, interactive games, deleted scenes, and a trailer. 

Bottom Line: Nearly twenty years after its release, Office Space continues to play and the movie is as funny as ever. This is a picture that uses laughter to poke fun at the absurdities of daily life and it does that effectively.

Episode: #709 (July 29, 2018)