By Marjorie Baumgarten
FEBRUARY 23, 1999:
D: Mike Judge; with Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, John C. McGinley, Paul Willson. (R, 89 min.)
A frightening number of people are going to recognize themselves in this movie:
white-collar prisoners of the corporate office place -- knowledge workers and computer
programmers and paper-shuffling desk jockeys who haven't become victims of downsizing
so much as they have become victims of the cubicizing of the American workplace.
Office Space is a movie whose battlegrounds will be familiar turf to any modern office
worker. It is a land defined by stapler wars and coffee mugs, memos and rumors, grievances
about improper usage of such things as cover pages, radio earplugs, time sheets,
and office equipment. It is a place where workers peer suspiciously around the edges
of their cubicles and where a person's snapping point may be triggered by something
as innocuous as a copier machine that unhelpfully displays a paper-jam message when
there is no paper jam or when a payroll clerk chirpily declares for the millionth
time, "Looks like someone has a case of the Mondays." However, do not fear
that writer-director Mike Judge has turned all Marxist, working-class hero on his
fans. The characters in Office Space lie somewhere in between the extremes of Judge's
other world-famous creations: those quintessential "What, me work!?" goons,
Beavis and Butt-head (and let's face it, who among us would want those cartoon clowns
to be handing us our burger and fries?), and King of the Hill's propane (and propane
accessories) salesman Hank Hill, who is a veritable avatar of the suburban work ethic.
Office Space is most definitely a comedy, something like Norma Rae with a college
degree and a sense of humor. "It's not all about me and my dream of doing nothing.
It's about all of us," Judge's lead character Peter (Livingston) declares. Judge's
script for this live-action feature -- his first after establishing his reputation
as one of the kings of the new wave of sophisticated, adult animation -- is wickedly
funny and to the point. The storyline is something of a hodge-podge but what the
narrative lacks in honing and straight-ahead storytelling it more than makes up for
with well-aimed barbs and acutely focused observations. Much the same is true for
the visual design -- one suspects that the sterile, fluorescent atmosphere of cubed-in
wage slaves might have offered unfulfilled opportunities for more sight gags and
hellish corporate vistas, but then a scene like the slow-motion copier machine gangbang
episode comes along and you realize that it's an image that will become an instant
classic. The performances are all sharply drawn examples of picture-perfect understatement.
Livingston (Swingers) makes a career breakthrough as the film's Everyman, Herman
and Naidu (subUrbia) shine as Peter's co-workers and co-conspirators -- the unfortunately
named Michael Bolton and the Near Eastern computer guy, Root is absolutely hilarious
as the mumbling office worker Milton (who was the subject of Judge's original animated
shorts that inspired the live-action feature), Cole oozes a fecund trail of smarm
as the company's unctuous supervisor, and Aniston is delightfully unFriend-like in
her downplayed role as Peter's love interest. Although the movie was filmed here
in Austin, Office Space strives for, and achieves, a generic Anywhere, USA look.
Nevertheless, this funny, funny satire gets us where we live.
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