Internet Movie Database Nitrate Online Review
Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
storeimg.gif (3164 bytes)
Movie Credits Buy It!

Office Space

Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 19 February 1999

  Written and Directed by Mike Judge.

Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston,
Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman,
Ajay Naidu, Richard Riehle, Diedrich Bader,
Alexandra Wentworth, John C. McGinley,
and Paul Willson.

In Office Space, we first see Peter (Ron Livingston), a young computer software engineer, bucking his way through morning commuter traffic, one inch at a time. First, the lane he's in moves to a halt, so he changes to the next lane, which looks as if it's moving faster. Then, that lane moves to a crawl while the previous one speeds up. He changes back to the first lane, and the whole thing starts all over again. It should come as no surprise that by the time he arrives at the office, he's in no mood for work.

Peter's boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, who plays his part to perfection), drives his Porsche, with vanity plates, into his personalized parking space at work, and arranges so that, as he walks to the front entrance of the office building, he moves around the front of the car so he can take a fleeting, self-satisfactory look at it.

Peter and his co-workers, we find out, are each gradually being driven crazy, day in and day out, in some particular way. Lumbergh keeps stopping by Peter's cubicle to remind him to pick up a copy of a memo which Peter already has, right on his desktop, upon which Lumbergh observes, nods tortoise-like, and tells Peter, before moving on, to remember to pick up a copy of the memo they had just been discussing. Michael (David Herman) has become mortal enemies with an office printer which consistently refuses to work properly. Samir (Ajay Naidu) must put up with the constant spectacle and humiliation of co-workers who can never pronounce his Arabic name correctly. And Milton (Stephen Root) vigorously defends his right to play his portable radio from nine to eleven a.m., which he has been given permission to do, while he goes about the task of hand collating mountains of papers around his desk and, at the same time, being moved and moved again to ever more tinier corners of the office. Milton's voice has dwindled, along with his usefulness and place in the world, to not much more than a rising mutter, but he can still feel strongly, in his own way, over things like attempts to replace his beloved Swingline stapler with one that is of a more inferior make.

Then, consultants are brought in and introduced to the staff as "efficiency experts," a ploy which fools no one because everybody knows that they are actually there to decide who's going to go and who's going to stay. One by one, the beleaguered workers go in to meet with the smiling executioners. Tom (Richard Riehle), a thirty-year employee, works himself into a tizzy trying to make the consultants understand why his job, as a liaison between the customers and software makers, is absolutely necessary. "Why can't the customers talk to them themselves?" the consultants reply. They seem to be enjoying watching the workers, on the other side of the conference table, dangling for their lives.

Over the weekend, though, something unusual happens to Peter -- he stops worrying. Blithely but without malice, he begins coming in to work a few hours later than he's supposed to. He dresses in more comfortable, casual outfits. He gets rid of a doorknob that always gives him a static shock after he walks across the carpeting. He takes a power screwdriver and loosens the cubicle partition whose only purpose is to mask his desk from an outside view through a window; he then leaves the partition on the floor exactly where it fell. When his turn comes to meet with the consultants, he gladly tells them, at length, about how the office is being ludicrously mismanaged, the employees demoralized. The consultants love the way Peter comes across as a "straight-shooter." They recommend he get a promotion. They even recommend he get a staff to work under him. The work ethic of our fathers -- that if you work hard, you will succeed -- seems to have been turned on its head, replaced by a miasma of fear and confusion held together by ineffective staff meetings and empty incentive slogans directed at people who expend their time and energy -- their lives -- at work that accomplishes nothing. Or, as one character in the film puts it, people get to the point where they "work just hard enough to not get fired."

Anyone who's worked in a modern office environment, or had to put up with hideously incompetent bosses or co-workers, or been fired on a whim, will find much to identify with, here, and I had a few good, hearty guffaws, myself, while spotting some things that I was able to identify with too, too well. The filmmakers don't make the mistake of dumping on everyone and everything to get their laughs (like the makers of one hugely popular comedy did, last year). Jennifer Aniston turns up as a waitress who works at a restaurant where the computer engineers regularly convene. Her twit of a boss keeps stopping her to take up the issue of her on-the-job "flare," or the shortage thereof, meaning the amount of silly buttons and badges that are supposed -- nay, required -- to be affixed to her waitress outfit. The boss always takes a circuitous route to get to the point he wants to make, while Aniston's character waits, paralyzed and uncertain, to find out whether he's actually meaning to tell her she's out of a job. The picture gives us an idea of the idiocy service workers now have to put up with, too. But then, after a dead-on build up, the worst possible thing happens: no payoff.

This is the first live-action feature film by Mike Judge, who created the Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill animated TV shows, and it comes as no surprise that this picture is based on a series of animated short films that Judge had made earlier. Figuring out how to sustain a feature film, though, is another matter (and this one just barely squeaks in at under 90 minutes).Once Judge has set up all his ideas and concepts, he can't figure out what to do with them. Instead of having Peter seize upon his new status in the office and, with his friends and co-workers, start remaking the workplace in such a way as to show up his old bosses for what they are, Judge sends the main characters off on a revenge plot that becomes so paltry and nonsensical that even the characters seem to want to be rid of it, just like the filmmakers do once they've realized what they've done. In short, Mike Judge squanders the perfectly good opportunities in material that he has created himself, in much the same way the characters in the film are squandered by their inept and maddening bosses. I can think of no other recent film (Snake Eyes included) that started out so promisingly and ended up being so incredibly disappointing.

Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store

Copyright 1999 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Copyright 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.