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Office Space (Mike Judge) 1999
Office Space, directed by Mike Judge (which is much
closer in subject matter to Dilbert cartoons than MTV’s Beavis and Butthead,
which Judge created) starts out promisingly enough. Peter Gibbons (Ron
Livingston), the film’s “hero”, is fed up with his day job as a
Y2K-readiness programmer. He has rather miserable in his life, with a
relationship with his girlfriend that is tenuous at best, and an aspiration to
do absolutely nothing. When that girlfriend suggests they see a hypno-therapist
to improve their understanding of each other, he begrudgingly agrees.
Fortunately, the hypno-therapist dies, leaving Peter in a state of eternal calm.
He suddenly feels no desire to clock in at work, pander to his girlfriend’s
whims, or even get out of bed in the morning. Since the film is a corporate
satire, Peter’s new behavior is seen by the consulting “efficiency
experts” as a lack of a challenging work environment. They determine he is fit
for promotion. The film, up to this point, manages to work up a great number of
funny moments. Throwaway gags (a theme restaurant is named “Tchotchke’s”,
a lawyer is named “Rob Newhouse”) abound, and the playful absurdity of the
movie feels inspired. Things soon take a sharp turn downward, however.
After Peter is promoted, he hatches a scheme to rob the
firm of small amounts of money. This subplot grows to the point where it
overtakes the entire film. The absurdity of the office environment is no longer
the focus. Suddenly Peter’s desire to do nothing is overtaken by a need to get
revenge on the corporation. This shift feels alarmingly false. The film attempts
to paint the theft as a moral crisis for its characters. Unfortunately, the same
characterizations that made the first half of the film’s comic-strip satire
possible makes any attempt to graft morals onto the same characters a huge
mistake. Once a plot forms, the film loses the vast majority of its comic zest.
The film’s ending seems a desperate attempt to tie up the film’s hatred of
the office environment and its latter crises of consciousness. It fails on both
counts to satisfy. It’s often a shame that good ideas go bad when they are
translated into a feature length film. Apparently, this film was based on a
series of comic strips that Judge created. As such, the more fragmented and
serialized the scenes feel, the more effective they are. The charms of the first
half of Office Space, which allow the audience to overlook the shoddy
direction and uninspired acting quickly fade, leaving the impression that this a
hollow movie when the credits roll.