Office Space (1999)

Office Space is a film that’s going to resonate with a lot of people, primarily those who either have been forced to listen to stories of the office, or have worked there themselves. This is a movie that does two things. (1) It satirizes what working in an office is like and (2) it portrays the characters working in said office as very sympathetic — at least, as long as they’re not part of the management department.

The lead is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a programmer at a company named Intech. He doesn’t do a whole lot of work while at the office, despite having a boss (Gary Cole) who constantly calls him in on the weekends and seems to exist — at least from his point of view — just to make his life miserable. Joined in his disgruntled attitude toward work is Samir (Ajay Naidu), the high-strung immigrant, and Michael Bolton (David Herman), who shares his name with the singer and hates it. That’s his only defining characteristic, by the way, so don’t expect anything more to come of that idea.

Characters having little to them is a consistent theme in Office Space. They’re all stereotypes or everymen. I get it; the everymen are there so you can project yourself into their position, and the stereotypes are there because that way you can associate them with someone else in your life: a boss, a co-worker, that one waitress at the restaurant you frequent during your lunch breaks, and so on. This also means that the film doesn’t have to take its time to develop them, and since it’s a comedy, it can (presumably) put that time and focus into the jokes and funny situations.

That’s fine, and if Mike Judge — the writer and director of the film, who also wrote the shorts on which the film is based — had done that, perhaps his film would have been a lot more enjoyable. Office Space feels like a collection of barely related shorts, which then decide to team up into a poorly executed caper plot. This idea comes out of nowhere and then takes over the rest of the film. It doesn’t work and while it’s the only “joke” that lasts for longer than a couple of moments, it’s not one that deserved any time.

The first part of Office Space comes really close to working, and I actually found myself enjoying parts of it. We see the disgruntled office workers, we see what makes their jobs miserable, and then we get the revelation: What would happen if you stopped going when you didn’t want to? This is funny, although it’s unlikely to sustain an entire 90 minutes. I understand why something resembling a plot had to come along and ruin this.

As a result, we get this caper plot — inspired by Superman III — in which the workers decide to install a virus onto the company’s computers which will result in them stealing fractions of pennies at a time, resulting in a few hundred thousand dollars after a couple of years. It can’t go right, and it leads to one or two character revelations, but it’s not actually funny, and all of the somewhat clever satire from earlier gets thrown out the window. Office Space loses its smarts and becomes boring.

Perhaps this is why things like Dilbert or Judge’s own Milton are shorts. This premise can’t make feature length without wearing thin or losing the original idea. When the film did seem just like a series of skits involving office workers who weren’t too happy with their jobs, at least it managed to keep things funny and fresh. When it tried to become more like a movie, the air was completely let out of the balloon and Office Space came crashing down to earth. What starts as an enjoyable movie quickly loses all of that momentum and grinds to a halt.

There are a couple of subplots, too, although they’re handled so poorly that they don’t even come across that way. Peter starts up a relationship with Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), although the entire purpose of this is for someone to tell him that, yes, stealing is wrong. The entire development of their relationship is shown to us in a montage where they mostly just watch Kung Fu on television. There’s really no purpose to it except for there to be one character with a conscience in the movie.

At least the actors are generally pretty good. Sure, they’re essentially all cartoon characters, but since that’s part of the joke, and it’s done intentionally, I can accept this. Livingston is a strong everyman, and his reactions to many of the workplace incidents are quite humorous. Gary Cole’s boss is by far the most enjoyable character in the film, as he’s slimy and you can definitely see what he was going for. When he interacts with, well, anyone, it’s really humorous.

Office Space isn’t really a bad movie, especially because the first half is quite funny and smart, but the caper plot is such a huge misfire that it almost renders the rest of the film pointless. While the earlier portions felt more like small skits than a cohesive film, at least they were interesting, funny, and make a point. There are a couple of jokes later on, and the actors do a good job with the material they’re given, but Office Space is ultimately not worth your time.

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