So check it: Unless you're one of these snooty, hi culture, New Yorker reading fags (Hey, did you see last month's article on the poetry of W.H. Auden? That Adam Gopnik just burns me up!) you can't escape the fact that animator Mike Judge has had an indelible effect on modern culture. He first received acclaim in the early 90's when he released the twin terrors, Beavis and Butthead, upon MTV and an unsuspecting world populace. Hell, I still remember the pandemonium. Kids jumping off buildings or resting their heads in the open mouths of crocodiles and then saying Beavis and Butthead made them do it. Parents going haywire, saying the show would cause the moral corruption of a nation. (And you know - they had a point.) After all the chaos and puss caused by that abomination, Mike chilled a bit and laid out "King of the Hill," a slightly more family friendly animated series on FOX that just made it into syndication. Amidst all that, he still found time to do several recurring animation shorts for the most popular comedy show of all time: Saturday Night Live.
But what might be Judge's masterpiece was a little number released in 1999, called "Office Space." It wasn't a success in the conventional sense. It's didn't make a lot of money. It didn't get a whole lot of attention. It didn't make celebrities out of its cast. It didn't - whoa, I better stop now or you'll never give it a chance. "Office Space" did have one thing going for it: it was funny. And in the years since its arrival on video, it's slowly worked its way into the status of a cult film, not unlike cinematic greats such as "Harold and Maude" or "C.H.U.D. - Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers."
Truthfully, I find it surprising that "Office Space" wasn't more of an out-of-the-box hit. Like the comic strip "Dilbert" it examined the day-to-day agony of the modern desk job. What made "Dilbert" such a success? Relational humor, baby - people could relate to "Dilbert." The shit Dilbert was going through in his everyday existence was the same shit we all had to deal with. Stupid bosses, insane co-workers, managerial nonsense, technical glitches, impertinent computers and procedural headaches. People looked at Dilbert and said, "I know what this motherfucker's going through!" Dilbert offered a catharsis of sorts and "Office Space" spoke to people in the same way.
If there's a Dilbert in "Office Space," it's the protagonist of Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston.) Like Dilbert, Peter's had it up to here with the multiple managers, baffling computer errors and nonsensical documentation requirements of his employer, the fictional company of Initech. Together with his co-workers Samir Nayeenanajar and Michael Bolton (yes, just like singer - it's a running gag of the film) he conspires to reroute some of the company's profits into a separate account. It's sort of a variation of the Robin Hood theme: Steal from the rich. and then keep it for yourself. The usual hijinks follow, but let's be honest - with comedy, plot is never that important. It's the little things that make it work.
One of the first bits that got me laughing at "Office Space" was the opening montage detailing the morning drive to work. Of course traffic is lousy, but every time Peter switches lanes, the lane he was just in speeds up and the lane he's now in halts. Then we jump over to David Herman's whitebread Michael Bolton character. He too is stuck in his ride, but he's passing the time by loudly singing along with some of the most offensive gangsta rap imaginable - a two minute dirge of bitches, niggas and gun play. But looking ahead Bolton sees a black guy panhandling and he quickly locks his car door and turns down the stereo. In one ten-second segment, Judge offers a richer commentary of white people's relationship with black music than a million Henry Louis Gate's articles.
And the thing is. I've been both those guys. I've been they guy who switches lanes only to get stalled and I've been the guy singing along to NWA until some real niggas come my way. Like I said - relational humor!
And once these characters get to the office, there's a million scenes any office drone can relate to. The relentless pitter-patter of the secretary answering the phone. The co-worker in the next cubical who won't turn down their radio. The printer determined to frustrate its human masters. It's all there.
You might think that unless you're not white-collar wage slave this film ain't for you. What if you've yet to even climb out of the lowest of the low and work in food services? Then I think you'll dig a side plot with Jennifer Aniston as a beleaguered waitress at the local Chilli's style diner. She's routinely accosted by her manager (who I believe is an uncredited, heavily disguised Mike Judge) for not showing enough "flair." Frustration builds, leading up to a scene where Aniston ditches her job is a way she never could as Rachel on FRIENDS.
Even the world of physical labor gets its representative in the form of Peter's construction working neighbor, Lawrence, played by Diedrich Bader. (Oswald on "Drew Carey.") However, it's here where I think the movie goes wrong, laying out an argument that back breaking construction labor is somehow better than white collar work because it doesn't constrict the soul or some shit. Being a veteran of general ditch digging labor, I take great offense at such assumptions. As crappy as a desk job is, it's undeniably better than getting up at 6 in the morning to spend all day slowly dilapidating your body to the point that you end up on worker's comp at 40.
BEFORE WE CONTINUE, LET'S MEET THE STARS OF "OFFICE SPACE"
Steven Root - You may recall this hombre as the multi millionaire Jimmy James during his run on the stellar sit-com, "News Radio." In "Office space," Root jumps to the other end of the professional spectrum as Milton, the lowly office worker who hoards the company stapler and continually mumbles. (This character is directly pulled from the "Milton" animated that Judge contributed to several episodes of Saturday Night Live in the mid 90's.)
Paul Wilson - If you were ever a a "CHEERS" watching motherfucker, you had to hip to Paul Wilson's loveable character, Paul, a schmoe only one step past Cliff Claven on the CHEERS food chain. Wilson got back in the saddle for "Office Space," playing one half of a team of consultants who come in to evaluate Initech. This time, Paul gets his game on firing those on the workforce who he deems irrelevant or incompetent.
Diedrich Bader - Now here's a guy who's definitely made his mother proud. His Oswald character is just about the best thing on CBS's "The Drew Carey Show" and Bader just seems to have a natural comic talent. I almost didn't recognize him in "Office Space" do to his lowered voice and obviously phony facial hair.
Gary Cole - This guy shows up all over the place (most recently in Robin Williams' "One Hour Photo") and he does best as a perennial asshole who walks all over people with no respect for their feelings or emotions - gotta love him! In "Office Space" he's a passive-aggressive bureaucratic who's settled into a career of snide nitpicking and pseudo-management.
Jennifer Aniston - As I've said before, people may dis "FRIENDS" as a non-comedy starring a bunch of pretty faces, but I've always given serious props to the cast, Ms. Aniston in particular. And I know she's working hard to convince her castmate, Courteney Cox Arquette, to ditch laughing boy and come ride the Forbis fun machine.
To top it all off. "Office Space" has a great soundtrack almost entirely comprised gangsta rap. It makes perfect sense in a way. Every office job is a boiling pot of seething resentment, sublimated revulsion and backstabbing hatred. Why not accompany such scenes with the form of music that best celebrates wanton violence and misanthropy in all its glory? Hence the genius of complimenting images of people destroying the office printer with the Geto Boys, "Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangster." Thusly, "Office Space" becomes more than a light hearted comedy but a stirring analysis of the American work experience.
Check it out, G'.
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at firstname.lastname@example.org
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!