Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Office Space (1999)

I may never forgive Office Space for taking the "nerdy white guys listening to gangster rap" joke away from me. I loved dazzling the homeboys and girls with my sick lyrics, but alas, it's over. It won't ever be as funny as it was in Office Space and I probably should just stop trying. Office Space is really a movie that needs context. Like a lot of Mike Judge's humor, it's not really funny unless you've lived it. You don't think King of the Hill is funny? Live in the south for ten years and you'll see that Judge is spot on in his satire. Office Space is the same way. It is a lot more accessible than some of Judge's other work, but you really need to have worked in a cubicle to totally appreciate it. It's a clever little film that has a surprising amount of humor hidden in it, even if the topical nature of the humor dooms the movie to cult status.

Office Space is the story of a man who hates his job. Hates isn't quite the right word, but it's the first that comes to mind. In an effort to solve his problem, Peter goes to a hypno-therapist for help. It works, but maybe a little too well. He officially stops trying at work and, in a unbelievable twist of fate, is significantly promoted for it. The film features a cast of relative nobodies, with the exception of Jennifer Aniston, who do an admirable job at keeping the whole thing funny. Mike Judge, who directs and writes, does some of his best work in Office Space. The movie functions as a biting satire with just enough feeling to keep the whole thing honest.

There are very few satires of the modern working world that are as funny and as spot-on as Office Space. Anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle has entertained dreams of doing exactly what Peter does and watching it pay off for him is, both, sickeningly funny and highly upsetting. Something is ingrained deep inside the working class that tells us working hard is essential. It's probably a relic of the Puritan work ethic, but the modern working man is conflicted. On one hand, we feel deep down in our core that we need to try as hard as possible, no matter how much we hate our job, but Peter's success shows us what we have feared all along. That the working world is a completely broken institution. Where Office Space truly shines though is that it doesn't blindly support a rebellion against the working world. Finding a balance between working hard and enjoying life is what is truly essential. This touch of feeling, which is one of Judge's trademarks, keeps Office Space from being just a simple, unremarkable comedy about having a crappy job.

Full of great one liners and memorable supporting characters, Office Space is a movie that will remain popular with a certain generation for a long time, but it seems doomed to cult status because of how cripplingly topical it is. Even though there is plenty of solid, accessible humor in the film, the bulk of the jokes require a specific set of experiences to really enjoy. Without doing office work, it's hard to empathize with our characters or laugh when things go horribly awry. Sure, people will always hate their jobs, but a lot of things have already changed in the workplace since 1999. In another ten years, the world that Office Space shows might not even exist anymore.

Even if Office Space drops off the face of the planet, there are quite a few Gen-Xer's who will always stand-by the movie. While I can't officially call myself one of them, born in a few years after the official "Generation X" cut-off, Office Space is a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart. It's outrageously funny and totally enjoyable. There is enough here, even for those who have never had a job in their life, to laugh at that the movie should stick around, but that seems unlikely. Even if Office Space is doomed to cult status, I will always enjoy it.


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