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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.



Jeremy Heilman