Mike Judge’s “Office Space” is one of those films that for many take more than one viewing to gain a full appreciation. Now let me be the first to say that I also took several viewings to appreciate the genius of “A Christmas Story” (click here for my review) and that “Office Space” doesn’t hold a candle to it in either the creative or acting categories. “Office Space” doesn’t have bad acting – in fact a couple of supporting players are outstanding – but it needs to grow on you and it becomes easier if you are cynical about the soul of corporations (or lack thereof). “Office Space” is very easy to find and although you wouldn’t think a film about office rebellion could be “R” rated, this one does have a few adult moments but none worthy of the rating. Still, try it out again if you didn’t like it to begin with … I think you’ll be surprised.
(1999; 89 minutes; rated R; directed by Mike Judge and starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston and David Herman)
THE BOBS HAVE IT … YEAAAAAAA!
(NOTE: I expanded with review with some additional opinion, more trivia and the updating of links on this fine Christmas Day of 2017.)
A film doesn’t have to have good box office sales to be a hit. “Office Space” is a prime example of this genre as it is quoted throughout offices worldwide even today, nearly 16 years after its release in the U.S. It gained its cult status through video distribution and even contributed to a stapler company having to bring back a red stapler that is a key prop in “Office Space” and people still joking about restaurant servers’ “flair.”
For all its biting commentary about the stupidity of corporate minions; its fantasy outlets for white collar workers everywhere; to even the loser fantasy of a laid off worker getting into an accident and collecting a big settlement, “Office Space” is not a good movie. Sorry, but director/writer Mike Judge has shown much more creativity with his works from TV’s “Beavis and Butthead” and its movie counterpart as well as “King of the Hill” than he does here, but somehow “Office Space” sticks with you.
Just like the biting criticism against a U.S. corporate culture better defined as pure idiocy of the “Dilbert” cartoon, “Office Space” tees off perfectly with how meetings are mostly useless, corporate managers don’t listen no matter what you say and that pointless reports take on an importance and basically that, “Look out, your corporation is gonna screw you in the end.” And we know which end, right?
In “Office Space,” which is based on Judge’s cartoon/animated short “Milton” (which has appeared on “Saturday Night Live”), Ron Livingston plays “Peter Gibbons,” who is a worker who is not only bored but absolutely hates his dreary job and office environment more every single day. He has a couple of friends who might not be any happier, but they’re pleased to be working. Livingston’s sometimes conscience lives next door in the persona of a neighbor who is a laborer and doesn’t have any problem with work.
Livingston has an epiphany while in a hypnosis session and begins to act on his fantasy of not working. While goofing off the first day, Livingston draws up the courage to talk to a woman he’s been admiring from afar (Jennifer Aniston as “Joanna”) and they begin dating (she’s as fed up with work as he). Now, instead of going to the office he goes fishing; he knocks down part of his cubicle to get a view; and tells the layoff consultants (“the Bobs”) at his company how he doesn’t work and spills his negative attitude on them.
So what happens? He gets a big promotion while his hard-working friends get fired. The trio plans their revenge (setting up a computer bug to steal from the firm) and it goes awry but a huge fire at the company conceals their crime. After a major breakup, Livingston and Aniston are back on again – and all this is a simple concept in Mike Judge’s mind, I guess.
At the top of the acting list you’ll find:
- Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Livingston is in both good and bad form at times in “Office Space.” For the most part he’s spot-on as the white-collar software worker in a drab, lifeless existence, but other times it’s as if he lost focus in the role. He’s especially good talking to the consultants where he tells them he only works 15 minutes a week, habitually comes in late and that he’s not lazy it’s just “that I don’t care.” Livingston was much better and earned his nomination for his work on the acclaimed HBO series “Band of Brothers” and has also been in “Swingers” and the gritty, nasty casino film “The Cooler” as well as the reboot of the iconic “Vacation” film.
- Golden Globe winner and nominee (not for this one) Aniston as “Joanna” appears to catch Livingston’s good-bad form here. At times she does a wonderful job – especially interactions with her boss at the restaurant – but at others it’s almost as if she’s mailing it in. However, also like Livingston, she gets a passing grade here and her talent is why the character didn’t sink into the mire. Aniston’s character doesn’t wear enough “flair” (buttons on her server’s uniform suspenders) and draws the ire of her boss. Aniston is, of course, best known for TV’s “Friends” and she was much better with Adam Sandler in “Just Go With It” (click here for my review) and was a bunch better in both “Horrible Bosses” (click here for my review) as well as “We’re the Millers.” She earned her Globe and one nomination for “Friends” and the other nomination for “Cake.”
- Primetime Emmy nominee Gary Cole as corporate vice president “Bill Lumbergh” does the best work of all the supporting actors. His droll “yeaaaaaaa” is a signature of the film (bad bosses everywhere are still mocked with this one) and he does a great job in sucking the life out everyone and every situation he encounters. It’s a much different role for him than he did as “Mike Brady” in “The Brady Bunch Movie” and its sequel. He shows his versatility in films diverse as Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” (click here for my review) as well as the doper film “Pineapple Express.” He earned his nomination for “Veep.”
Nearly as good are the two “Bobs,” who are consultants called in for a round of firings at the fictional “Initech” where the film is set. The consultants are:
- The almost always wonderful and sarcastic John C. McGinley plays “Bob Slydell” and is the lead consultant. He’s gleeful in his approach to firings but joins his partner in loving Livingston’s candor. McGinley is very accomplished and is a supremely good supporting character (take “Platoon” for example) and it shows here. He has also been in TV’s “Scrubs,” “Point Break” (click here for my review) and “The Rock” and I though he did a solid job in HBO’s “The Pentagon Wars” (click here for my review).
- A very underrated Paul Willson plays “Bob Porter” and is the slightly more laid-back sidekick to McGinley. He’s not as expressive as McGinley, but he does hold up his end here. Willson has also been in dozens of TV roles including on “Cheers” and has the reputation as an exceptional improv actor and comedian.
On to the supporting cast and you’ll find that superb comedic actor Stephen Root plays “Milton Waddams,” who is the Mike Judge character on whom the film is based. Root is pitch-perfect as the creepy, mumbling office drone who loves his red Swingline stapler. With bottle-thick glasses and his sotto voce threats, Root ultimately gets the money that the boys stole and burns down the office complex. Root has also been on TV’s “NewsRadio” as well as “No Country for Old Men.”
Here’s a quick roundup of other supporting actors’ work here:
- David Herman gets near top-line billing as “Michael Bolton” (no, he’s not related!) but like co-worker Ajay Naidu as “Samir Nagheenanajar,” he doesn’t do much with his character. Both are watchable and that’s about all you can say about them. Herman has been in “Dude, Where’s My Car” while Naidu was in “Requiem for a Dream.”
- A little better is Diedrich Bader as “Lawrence,” who is Livingston’s next door neighbor and gives him advice about how to avoid working weekends. Bader was good as the iconic idiot “Jethro Bodine” in the movie version of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and was also in “Napoleon Dynamite.”
- Orlando Jones does a terrific small part as “Steve” the magazine salesman who gives the guys advice about money laundering (without having any experience doing it). It’s too bad he wasn’t one of Livingston’s co-workers instead of being in this part. He deserved much more screen time. Jones has also been in “Drumline.”
- Richard Riehle plays “Tom Smykowski,” who is the useless employee who gets laid off, hit by a drunk driver and collects a big settlement. Great casting here. Riehle conveys his character so perfectly from his demeanor to his acting that you can just look at him and know he is useless in the organization. He has also been in “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
- Greg Pitts is “Drew” and his only acting attribute is to show his “Oh” face (watch the movie and you’ll understand). Pitts was also in “Coyote Ugly.”
- Just like Jones, Todd Duffey needed more screen time. He plays “Brian,” who is the energetic server counterpart to Aniston and has tons of “flair.” Duffey projects his character perfectly and you’ll probably hope he’s your server the next time you’re at a franchise restaurant. He’s also been in “God’s Country” as well as the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Finally, creator and director Mike Judge does a bit part here as Aniston’s restaurant manager “Stan” (he’s billed as “William King”) and is smooth in the role, even as Aniston flips him the bird – and she shows superior acting talent while giving someone the finger.
I guess the best way to sum up “Office Space” is that, like all films, is best just as the sum of the parts and not by the individual parts. There is more wrong with the film than there is right if you take each scene individually or examine the story line-by-line, but, put it all together, and you have something special on which to reflect.
It’s interesting to note that nearly all the male actors have characters with full names (“Peter Gibbons,” “Milton Waddams” and “Bill Lumberg” just to name three) and only a couple male actors have characters with any appreciable screen time with only one name (“Drew” is the best that comes to mind). Yet, all the female characters, including the one played by the biggest “name” actor in the film Jennifer Anniston, all have one name. I don’t know if this was intentional by Judge or, if it was, what point was he making.
“Office Space” was a bomb at the box office and placed 121st at the U.S. box office with only $10.8 million in ticket sales (coming in just ahead of “The Astronaut’s Wife”), according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “Office Space” made an additional $2 million and then another $7.9 million in video sales, according to Wiki. With a $10 million budget it wasn’t considered a winner in the pocketbook, either. The No. 1 film of the year was “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” with $431 million. Here are the other films from 199 that I’ve reviewed:
- “Dogma” (sensational social drama) – click here for my review
- “The Thomas Crown Affair” (excellent drama) – click here for my review
- “Wild Wild West” (terrifically bad steampunk) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Aniston’s character’s name is “Joanna,” which is her real middle name.
- Jones said he based how he did his character of a magazine salesman on his niece. When she sold Girl Scout cookies, he is quoted as saying, she did it with a poor attitude.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The ‘P.C. Load Letter’ scene was not scripted. David Herman had more lines to say to Ron Livingston, but was interrupted by the photocopier jamming, and didn’t understand what it meant.”
- Of course, after “Office Space” gained cult status on video, there was talk of a sequel. However, Judge said he didn’t want to put himself through the anguish he went through with the first to make a second.
- Both of the “Bobs” wear medical ID bracelets.
- The set for the “Chotchkie’s” restaurant was actually the “Alligator Grille” in Austin, Texas. It closed in 2009.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “The iconic red stapler coveted by Milton was created for the film by the prop department. They needed a bright enough color to be seen on film and chose red. After the film was released, Swingline began to receive requests from customers for red staplers. Having stopped offering red several years before, they made the decision to start offering the color once more.”
- Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about the film …
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