VOD film review: Office Space
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Laurence Boyce | On 20, Feb 2022
“Work sucks” is the simple tagline of cult classic Office Space. More than two decades since the film was released, it seems that there are a lot more people who agree. The US is currently undergoing “The Great Resignation”, with many people quitting their jobs believing that – shock, horror – that the corporations they work for are undervaluing them. With the entire pandemic and working from home causing people to re-evaluate their work life balance, Mike Judge’s 1999 debut feature seems to have predicted the state of the world with uncanny accuracy. Considering that his sophomore feature Idiocracy also seemed to be a prescient examination of a Trumpian world one decade before The Orange One would be voted into power, let’s all hope he doesn’t decide to do a post-apocalyptic film.
Office Space follows Peter (Ron Livingston) who works as a programmer for Initech, spending day after dull day in a “cube farm” wondering where his life has gone. While he finds friendship with some co-workers – such as Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael (David Herman) – others just grind his life down. These include his blithe boss Bob Lumbergh (Gary Cole), whose nasal drawl usually signals an admonishment disguised as motivation – and an order to work on weekends.
But after a hypnotherapy attempt goes wrong, Peter finds something amazing – he just doesn’t care about work anymore. His new carefree attitude would seem to be his downfall at work – but, of course, the opposite happens with the company looking to downsize loving his new attitude. As Peter changes his life, he and his colleagues decides to stick it to corporate culture, Superman III-style. But will his rejection of work, well, work?
Given Mike Judge’s pedigree as the creator of Beavis and Butthead and the fact that the film is based on a series of animated shorts, it’s unsurprising that Office Space seems to drift towards the cartoonish. All the characters are sketchy and underdeveloped – with Peter’s love interest of Joanna (Jennifer Aniston in an early role) drifting close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl status – and rely on quirks and broad strokes. In particular, there’s Milton (Stephen Root), the bespectacled and beleaguered office joke, and Cole’s Lumbergh, who is basically a caricature of every uncaring boss. Normally, this would be a problem but, within the world that Judge creates, these characterisations (and the game performances from the cast) actually suit proceedings. We know little about them outside of their work lives simply because that’s all they have: get up, go to work, go home. Repeat and then die.
That’s perhaps also why the film has garnered such a following since it was first released. It’s easy to project one’s self on the characters and empathise with their battle against the drudgery of work.
Certainly, Judge emphasises the comedic over any type of realism, but does so with a certain sense of joy. The now-infamous scene in which our protagonists destroy a printer is so over the top and ridiculous you can’t but help but be swept along.
While it can be narratively patchy and slight, Office Space never outstays it’s welcome and engenders a lot of goodwill. It has continued to influence a generation as its cult has grown. The US version of The Office owes it a debt as does stationary company Swingline (Milton’s red stapler in the film did not exist in real life, but overwhelming demand saw the company produce them and it now remains one of their best-selling items.) And, while the world has moved on technologically since Office Space, attitudes – both of workers and corporations – hasn’t. The fact that one can now view the film on Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ is perhaps something of a delicious irony.