Office Space

Mike Judge's overlooked gem Office Space.

<i>Office Space</i>
Office Space

Office Space

D: Mike Judge (1999); with Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Stephen Root, Diedrich Bader. Yesterday, Ken Lieck and I stood in the hall, chatting about the brilliance of Office Space, wondering why its reputation isn't greater. We both admitted to having watched it several times in the last few weeks. In Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby the Scrivener," when a clerk is fired, he refuses to leave. Instead, he continues to come to work each day. Judge offers a few inspired variations on this theme in Office Space. The central story is about a Dilbert-like corporate cog (Livingston) lost in thought-numbing routine and drowning in his own life. His oozingly vile boss (Cole) keeps conning him into weekend work, and he has a crush on Aniston, a waitress he sees at lunch. But a hypnotism incident gone bad changes his life. He gives up on work. What if you had a clerk who stopped coming to work, and so he got promoted? Livingston finds his failures rewarded more than his efforts. I've watched this film twice now, and I'm just charmed as to how good and well-acted it is, a series of skits and character sketches colliding to make a very funny movie. The triumph is in the writing, the characters, and the terrific performances all around (especially Livingston, Aniston, Naidu, Root, and Herman as Michael Bolton,"No, not that Michael Bolton"). But there is a sense that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The film's ending is a bit more of a predictable caper than the inspired musings on work that fuel the earlier part. Judge is emerging as one of the most perceptive cultural observers at the end of the 20th century. As with Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, Office Space contains sharp observations about how the culture operates, about who we are and why we do the things we do here. Now, imagine there's another clerk. He has been fired but doesn't know it. He loves his stapler. Judge's first animation effort was a cartoon about Milton, a worker trapped in his job. In Office Space, Root (News Radio) takes this role to a hysterical extreme. The rest of the film grew from this character, but Milton is the most memorable role in the film. If you've missed out on Root's performance here, you're missing one of the funniest character performances in recent years.

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