Office Space Review

by "Steve Rhodes" (Steve DOT Rhodes AT InternetReviews DOT com)
February 22nd, 1999

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): *** 1/2

In writer and director Mike Judge's brilliant comedy, OFFICE SPACE, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a software engineer who used to have a big problem, his boring job, but he's fixed that. He's not quitting, but since he doesn't like it, he has decided simply that he'll stop going into the office anymore. Eventually, a relaxed Peter will show up every now and then, but only on his terms.

OFFICE SPACE, the perfect movie for the cubical dwellers of the Dilbert generation, has a low budget look, but its humor is right up there with last year's THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Whereas the latter used raunchy humor to get its laughs, OFFICE SPACE uses dead-on, topical humor that is only sporadically risque to produce laughs so hard you may almost get sick. I know I got into so many laughing convulsions that I found myself choking.

As the movie opens, Peter and his coworkers are stuck in a parking lot masquerading as a highway as they inch toward a company called Initech, where they work on banking software. Peter has 8 bosses, probably due to the wonders of dotted-line management, and each of them love to come cooing into his office, complaining in the nicest but most irritating tone. Today's crisis is that he forgot to put the cover sheet on the TPS report. His bosses keep dropping by to remind him that there was a memo about it. "Did you get that memo?" they chirp with dripping sincerity.
In a small supporting role, Gary Cole, from A SIMPLE PLAN, delivers the best performance of the movie. As Lumberg, Peter's main boss, Cole gives a chillingly gracious interpretation of a boss who appears compassionate on the surface but underneath is all of life's annoying bosses rolled into one. Patronizing and unreasonably demanding, he infuriates Peter and his coworkers, Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman) -- no, not that Michael Bolton.

As Peter battles his office aggravations with little success, he wonders out loud to his coworkers where it will all lead. "What if we're still doing this when we're 50?" he muses. He tries the thought exercise from school, "What would you do if you had a million dollars?" The test is supposed to reveal what you really want to do with your life, but the question proves as useless as it is trite.

There are other discontented workers as well, the company being a hotbed of disinterested and unmotivated employees. "There are guys in life who don't have to put up with all of this, like that guy with the Pet Rock," Tom (Richard Riehle) declares with a hopeless tone that belies his words. The script mixes honest poignancy with crisp comedy that packs a wallop. Even minor actors, like the one that plays a magazine salesman from the ghetto and who appears in a single, brief scene, are wonderfully funny.

Jennifer Aniston plays a small but important part as Peter's girlfriend and a waitress without enough "flair." She works at one of those themed restaurants, in which she is required to wear at least 15 pieces of sloganed buttons and other accoutrements on her clothing. Her manager keeps ragging on her because she only wears the minimum number of pieces. If she really loved her job as she should, she should want to wear more, as he keeps reminding her. As sweet and lovely as Aniston was in the part, I kept thinking of Parker Posey from her role in a similar movie, CLOCKWATCHERS, and how Posey would have added a interesting harder edge to the part.

After an amazing first act, the movie appears to have painted itself in a corner with the writer having milked the angst-filled employees idea for all it is worth, but then the movie takes off again with some quite surprising twists. Only in the short concluding act does the story lose its footing a bit. Still, the structure of the movie is relatively unimportant. It is in the small episodes that the movie delivers its punch. Typical of these is the way some consultants determine an easier way for a manager to lay someone off -- just stop paying him and he will eventually get the idea. And it reveals a secret way for cubical dwellers to get that window office that they've always coveted. You'll have to see the movie to learn the trick.

Some movies have universal appeal, and some are more narrowly targeted. Whereas I think most people will find OFFICE SPACE quite funny, those who live in high tech meccas like the Silicon Valley or those who work in cubicles will undoubtedly love the picture. Finally, there is a litmus test. If you've tried reading the Dilbert cartoons about the working world and have never been able to understand why there are funny, OFFICE SPACE probably isn't the movie for you.

OFFICE SPACE runs a fast 1:30. It is rated R for profanity and brief sexuality and would be fine for teenagers.

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