Sunday, June 14, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Office Space

First published: February 26, 1999
Gary Cole berates Ron Livingston
Note: I remember sitting in the theater on opening night for Office Space, and having like seven other people in the room. Given how ubiquitous it became on home vid, it's easy to forget how totally the thing died at the box office. In hindsight, this movie would absolutely have gotten an A grade. To be honest, I have no idea why I gave it a B+. Also, in the second paragraph I mention an impending Beavis & Butthead sequel, and clearly that never happened.

Work sucks. So will attest any teenager faced with the prospect of a night studying. So too will attest anyone caught up in the daily grind of a 9-5 job as another cog in the corporate machine-works. Combine the mentality of a high schooler with the responsibilities of the real world, and you wind up with Office Space, director Mike Judge's hilarious dissection of of the foibles and follies of corporate Americana.

Judge, creator of MTV's Beavis & Butthead and Fox's smash King of the Hill, makes his live action directing debut with this film, following his previous directing effort, Paramount's animated Beavis & Butthead do America (a sequel to which is expected soon). Judge brings the same anything-goes sensibility to Office Space that powers his animated work, with a variety of characters who could easily have stood on the doorstep of Hank Hill's Arlen homestead.

Ron Livingston (Swingers) stars as Peter Gibbons, the hapless worker who one day decides that he's had enough. Livingston brings precisely the right tone of utter disdain and detachment to Peter. It's hardly a star-making turn, but one that is perfectly suited to the material. Peter's co-workers range from homeboy-wannabe Michael (David Herman), to the eternally frustrated Samir (Ajay Naidu), who can't seem to get anyone to pronounce his name right. The bane of all who inhabit the office is the delightfully dull Gary Cole as monotonous supervisor Lumbergh.

The film's gestation can be traced to a series of animated shorts originated by Judge and airing on Saturday Night Live, featuring Milton, a character obsessed with preserving his domain inside his cube. Though the animated Milton was given voice by Judge himself, he turns up in Office Space played by Newsradio actor Stephen Root. Judge made the right decision in subordinating Milton and making him one of the film's supporting players, as the character's distinct weirdness works much more effectively in the background than front-and-center.

Had the opposite approach been taken, we would have ended up with another tired Saturday Night Live movie like A Night at the Roxbury, with characters who work in bite size skits but not two hour chunks. Livingston and co-star Jennifer Aniston, as Peter's girlfriend, have an easygoing rapport that's fun (they know they're meant for each other because they both love to watch reruns of Kung Fu), but thankfully no attempt is made to try and place their admittedly lightweight relationship ahead of the goings-on at the office.

The brilliance of Office Space is that it keys in on the resentment and frustration  that many workers feel in their dead-end jobs, even those who may not be cube slaves. The message, steeped though it is in bitterness and cynicism, is truly universal. For anyone who has secretly longed to flip their boss the finger, or skip work without calling in, Office Space is a cry of encouragement that we're all in the same boat. B+

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