Office Space

A loving ode to those who suffer daily in cubicle coffins. Quality observation comedy is afoot...

Released in 1999, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 22 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to wear snappy braces like these. Yeeaaaahhh...

I never have, and hopefully never will, work in an office cubicle environment, but Mike Judge, most famous for bringing us Beavis and Butthead, clearly has some experience. Based on his Milton series of animated shorts, Office Space is a love/hate letter to that most constricting of working environments and the cardboard cut-outs who inhabit it. From the office nerd to the irritating fat receptionist, and the worthless bosses inbetween, anyone who has worked in such a place will no doubt feel immediately at home with the inhabitants of Initec, a medium-sized information technology company looking to streamline its operation by the wonderful means of 'downsizing'.

Rather than again making Milton the central character (although he does feature here prominently), Office Space instead focuses on the viewpoint of Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), an everyman whose role in the capitalist machine is to scan thousands of lines of code in the pre-millennium software bug-hunt of 1999. He is bored, stressed and increasingly apathetic towards his work (sounding familiar?), and decides to enlist the help of hypnotherapist Dr. Swanson (Michael McShane) to help him unwind. After inducing a deep, apathetical state of relaxed consciousness, Swanson has a heart attack and dies before he can wake Peter up. No longer imbued with the will to withstand bullshit, he duly returns to work and makes a point of telling everybody who asks exactly what he thinks, even going so far as to stay in bed all day on Saturday after his utterly anal boss Bill Lumbergh (an excellent Gary Cole) requests his presence for overtime.

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At his assessment by downsizing expert Bob Slydell (another neatly-observed turn from John C. McGinley), Peter finds his truthful approach rewarded not with a pink slip in his pay cheque, but rather by the offer of promotion. Having just described his working week as consisting of roughly "15 minutes of work" whilst the rest is spent "spacing out", this is something of a bonus, but Peter learns his elevation will be accompanied by the loss of his two best friends and colleagues Samir Nayeenanajar (Ajay Naidu) and the chronically-named Michael Bolton (David Herman). With only a few days before the Friday they are due to be sacked, Peter convinces the pair to make good on a scheme to swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company by means of a computer virus Bolton has been idly threatening to unleash for some time.

The trick that Office Space plays so well is that although the characters themselves aren't all that funny (Gary Cole's turn as Lumbergh aside), the observations of the everyday environment are absolutely flawless. The office printer that displays "paper jam" when it clearly hasn't; the door handle that gives Peter a shock every morning no matter how carefully he approaches it; the company branded mugs; the unashamedly pretentious modern-art company logo sculptures in the parking lot; the patronising approach of bosses towards their staff in reminding them about their 'TPS report cover-sheets'. It seems nothing escapes writer/director Judge's beady eyes, and the movie is as a result a complete bloody hoot.

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That Office Space had such a low-key release is something of a shame, as it eclipses most other supposed comedies in it's inventiveness and observation. A host of well-known faces pop up for cameo roles, including Jennifer Aniston as Peter's new girlfriend and Orlando Jones as a reformed crack-addict (or is he?) selling magazine subscriptions door to door. Judge keeps a tight hold of the leash and things nip along nicely; I certainly can't remember a point in the 90 minute running time where I was bored in the least. The cast are all genuinely sympathetic (or at least the ones we're supposed to be rooting for) and manage to convey both the monotonous and the humorous exceedingly well. Livingston in particular is a wise casting choice, his face expressing disinterest at every opportunity whilst simultaneously conveying a Tyler Durden-like observation of sick desperation, and his manner suggesting a man who knows exactly where this character is coming from.

In the end, the lads pull off their scheme (although the beneficiary is not who they had expected), the company takes a major kick in the ass, and that bloody printer even gets it's comeuppance. If you or anyone you know has ever had the misfortune to spend their working day in five-by-five accommodation and harboured a desire for freedom from the monotony, then forget it; there is no escape. What there is, however, are brief moments of respite, and Office Space is just that. Astutely observed white-collar comedy doesn't come much better than this. Fight the system!

Disko has awarded this film 4 out of 5 Sly Disko Winks.

Mike Judge
Cast list:
Ron Livingston (Peter Gibbons)
Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh)
Ajay Naidu (Samir Nayeenanajar)
David Herman (Michael Bolton)
Jennifer Aniston (Joanna)