Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stubs – Office Space

Office Space (1999) Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole. Directed by Mike Judge. Produced by Daniel Rappaport, Michael Rotenberg. Screenplay by Mike Judge. Based on the animated Milton shorts by Mike Judge.  Run Time: 89 minutes. U.S. Color. Comedy

If you were ever wondering what a cult film looks like, you need to look no further than Office Space (1999), the second film and first live action movie directed by Mike Judge, the comedian/animator behind the Beavis and Butt-head series that originally ran on MTV from 1993 to 1997 and King of the Hill which ran on Fox from 1997 to 2007. The MTV series would be turned into a movie Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996). But before all that, Judge had produced a series of animated shorts that aired on Saturday Night Live, starring a character named Milton.

It would be these shorts that would supply the premise for Office Space. No doubt after the success of Beavis and Butt-head, the movie had the biggest weekend opening until Titanic opened a year later, it’s hard to imagine any studio that didn’t want to work with Judge. Since he was already working with them on King of the Hill, Fox would be a likely choice.

Ron Livingston stars as Peter Gibbons in Mike Judge's Office Space.

Based on his own work experiences in the 1980’s, Office Space deals with issues that hit home for a lot of Americans. Initech is any company USA, a cube field of workers with too many chefs. As an example, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) has eight bosses. Gibbons, a programmer at Initech, working on fixing the Y2K bug in the company’s software, spends most of his days staring at his desk. Every day, he feels, is the worst day of his life. He has a dead end job, an off-again on-again relationship with Anne (Alexandra Wentworth) and he lusts for the waitress, Joanne (Jennifer Aniston), at a nearby theme-restaurant.

Jennifer Aniston is Joanne, the girl of Peter's dreams in Office Space.

Peter’s cube neighbor is Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) a mumbling disgruntled worker, who has a thing for his red Swingline stapler. Milton is unhappy with his treatment at Initech, even threatening under his breath to burn the place down. We later learn that Milton had been laid off five years ago, but never told and a payroll glitch had kept the checks coming so Milton would continue to show up. Lumbergh seemed to take a certain delight in making Milton’s worklife miserable, constantly moving him to less and less desirable cubes. Bob and Bob fix the payroll glitch, but still don’t tell Milton he’s been fired.

Milton (Stephen Root) and his beloved red stapler.

Peter’s friends at work, Samir Nagheenajar (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman), no relation to the pop singer, feel the same way. (Michael is shown to be into gangsta rap throughout the movie.) Their boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), who wears a belt and suspenders, doesn’t seem to do much more than drink coffee and make their lives miserable. Peter lives in fear that Lumbergh is going to ask him to work on Saturday. Peter takes advice from his blue-collar neighbor, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader), who suggests he just avoid Lumbergh at the end of the day Friday, when he is most likely to ask him to come in on Saturday. But due to the slow saving of his computer at shut down, Peter gets caught before he can escape and is asked to not only work Saturday, but Sunday as well.

Lumbergh (Gary Cole) catches Peter on his way out on Friday.

That Friday night, at Anne’s insistence, Peter goes to see Dr. Swanson (Mike McShane), an occupational hypnotist. After hearing his state of mind, Dr. Swanson hypnotizes Peter into relaxing and not caring so much, but before he can bring him out of his trance, Dr. Swanson suffers a massive coronary and dies during their session.

When Peter’s alarm goes off at eight the next morning, he rolls over and sleeps. Even seventeen phone calls from Lumbergh cannot rouse him. After he finally rises, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Anne calls to chew him out for not showing up at the office. But the new Peter, who has lost his inhibitions, hangs up on her and goes back to bed. She calls back and on the answering machine breaks up with him and admits to cheating on him, which all his friends have suspected.

Unfazed, Peter shows up late to work on Monday, but instead of going into the office, asks Joanne out for lunch. She is surprised, but obviously intrigued enough to join him at a nearby restaurant, still in the uniform of the restaurant she works at, complete the minimum fifteen flairs, buttons, on her uniform. Joanne shares Peter’s hatred of work and agrees to go out with him that night for dinner, which he promises will end with watching the TV show Kung Fu, which she also loves.

Peter's friends at work Samir Nagheenajar (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman).

Everyone at Initech is worried about pending lay-offs, including 30-year veteran worker Tom Smykowski (Richard Riehle), upon the arrival of two “consultants” Bob Slydell (John C. McGinley) and Bob Porter (Paul Wilson), who make everyone reapply for their own job. The consultants are surprisingly intrigued by Peter’s attitude and admission that he probably only really works for 15 minutes a week. Feeling that he’s not being challenged, they suggest that he be moved up to management, while Samir and Michael are to lose their jobs.

The Bobs; Slydell (John C. McGinley) and Porter (Paul Wilson)

When Peter learns about the pending unjust treatment of Samir and Michael, he plots with them to get even with Initech. Michael had mentioned a program (virus) he’d written that could take the fractional cents from interest payments and transfer them to an account they could set up at the credit union, which Intitech also uses. The film admits that the plot is taken right out of Superman III (1983). They need Samir’s help to determine the best place to plant the virus and Peter actually executes the upload. They figure no one would miss the small amounts, which they calculated would amount to several hundred thousand dollars after years and years. They agree to tell no one; even Lawrence, who can hear through the paper thin apartment walls, agrees not to disclose their plan to anyone.

But Peter quickly gives up the plot to Joanne on their way to a party being thrown by Tom, who is celebrating the windfall he’s going to receive as part of a settlement for an accident that happened right outside his home. Depressed, Tom had tried to kill himself by running the car in the garage. But when his wife, Laura (Linda Wakeman) came home unexpectedly, he changed his mind and decided to live. No sooner, though than he had pulled out of the garage, then a drunk truck driver t-bones him.

At the party, co-worker Drew (Greg Pitts) gossips about Joanne to Peter, telling him that she sleeps around. One of her sexual partners he mentions is Lumbergh, which sends Peter into a rage. On the way back from the party, Peter breaks up with her over the liaison.

On Monday, things get even worse when Peter checks the balance of the boys' joint credit union account. Expecting to see a few hundred dollars at most, just to make sure the virus is working properly, he discovers $305,326.13. This is serious money, which the company will surely notice is missing and they do.

With everyone facing time and fearing anal rape in prison, Peter decides to step forward and take responsibility for the plot. On his way to work to leave the money and his confession, he stops by the restaurant Joanne is working at. Fed up with her manager insisting on her wearing more flair than the minimum, she had snapped and shot him, some customers and a line chef, the finger. Now she works at Flingers next door. Peter apologies for his behavior. Having learned it was a different Lumbergh she slept with, not his boss, he tells her that he wants to spend his life with her.

Joanne finally has had enough. She gives her boss the finger and goes to work at Flingers.
No sooner has he placed the envelope under Lumbergh’s door, Peter regrets it. But when he can’t reach it under the door he gives up. On Monday morning, he packs a bag, expecting to be arrested as soon as he gets to Initech.

But the work gods are smiling down on him. Earlier that morning, Milton, who has since been moved to the basement, comes to Lumbergh’s office to inquire about his missing paychecks and to retrieve the red stapler Lumbergh had taken from him. Even though Lumbergh’s secretary, Peggy (Barbara George-Reiss), tries to chase him away, Milton returns to get his stapler back, walking into the unlocked office and passing the envelope with the confession and traveler’s checks in it.

By the time Peter gets to work, Initech is on fire. While it is never stated in the movie, the firebug is Milton, who disappears into the crowd while everyone is watching the office burn to the ground. Peter is relieved that the evidence of his crime has burned up with the building. Content, Peter takes a job helping to clean up the site, working side by side with Lawrence.

Samir and Michael have gotten jobs at a rival company and Joanne and Peter’s relationship, we’re told, is going strong. But life is best for Milton, who we see at the end of the film, lying on the beach at a Mexican resort. He is mumbling his dissatisfaction with the service he is getting and threatening to burn the place down. Again the film doesn’t come out and say so, but apparently Milton found the checks in Lumbergh’s office and is living high on the hog from his new found fortune.

In the end, Milton gets to live the high life.
Office Space has cult classic written all over it. To qualify, the film had a disappointing theatrical release, budgeted at $10 million, the film made less than $13 million at the boxoffice, and have a resurgence in the home entertainment market. The film would sell 2.6 million units (VHS tapes and DVDs), making about $8 million in DVD sales alone. Office Space would also become a standard on Comedy Central which has shown it more than 35 times in two years after its channel debut on August 5, 2001.

The film feels at time like a glorified TV movie, perhaps, since almost everyone in the cast had more success, at least up to that time, on television rather than the movies. The biggest star of the ensemble, Jennifer Aniston, had made her mark as Rachel on the long-running Friends TV show (1994 to 2004). Despite her good looks and appealing personality, Aniston has never found the same success in movies as she did on TV.

Ron Livingston, prior to Office Space, had appeared mostly on television, in guest parts on JAG (1995) and Townies (1996) before getting a starring role in the very short-lived series, That’s Life (1998). He has subsequently appeared in a story arc on Sex in the City (2002-2003) and appeared in such series as Standoff (2006-2007), Defying Gravity (2009) and most recently on Boardwalk Empire (2013). He has meanwhile, continued to make movies, appearing in Fort Bliss (2014).

Before Office Space, Gary Cole was best known for his roles in several made for TV movies, starting with Heart of Steel (1983). The actor had also appeared in several features including The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) and A Very Brady Sequel (1996). He might be best remembered for his role as Reese Bobby in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006).

Most supporting cast members are best known for television roles prior to the movie. Stephen Root was radio station owner Jimmy James on NewsRadio (1995-1999); David Herman had gotten his start on MadTV (1995-1997) and was doing voices on Judge’s King of the Hill; Diedrich Bader was Oswald Les Harvey on The Drew Carey Show (1995-2004); Ajay Naidu was on LateLine (1998-1999); and Paul Wilson had been Paul on the long running Cheers (1983-1993). Even John C. McGinley, who had appeared in movies before, most notably Platoon (1986), had gotten his start on TV, playing Ned on Another World (1985-1986).

I think Mike Judge’s humor is an acquired taste. While I never could get into Beavis and Butthead, I did find some of his jokes, mostly jabs about my native Dallas and Texas, funny on King of the Hill. But I lost interest in the show long before it went off the air. That’s a little of how I feel about Office Space, in that it’s a hit and miss.

The film’s strength is that it touches on universal themes for anyone who has worked in an office. One of the funniest scenes for me is when Peter decides to increase his space and better his view by detaching one of the walls on his cube and letting it fall to the ground. What inhabitant of the cube farm hasn’t wished he/she could do just that? And who hasn’t lived through and/or been effected by layoffs, paying for management’s bad decisions and wanted some form of revenge?

In one of the better scenes, Peter betters his view by removing one wall from his cubicle.
The decision not to focus the film on the Milton character was a smart one, at least as how the character is played by Stephen Root at Judge’s direction. This is an example that perhaps Saturday Night Live could learn with its sketches to films, something that might work in a four to five minute sketch may not be right to carry a movie. If Milton and his stapler had been the focus, I don’t think this film would have even risen to cult classic. But because he’s a minor and recurring character, he proves to be a nice touch, but too much Milton (there is almost too much as it is) would have ruined the film.

While this is sometimes laugh out loud funny, Office Space is not a laugh riot. Sometimes it might hit a little close to home, but for anyone who has worked in an office you will no doubt find someone in the film that reminds you of a co-worker, maybe even yourself.


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