OFFICE SPACE (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and brief Sexuality

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge

Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, John C. McGinley & Paul Willson

Have you ever been stuck in slow-moving traffic on your way to work? Have you ever endured the insufferable ramblings of a dickhead boss or had to put up with inane antics from annoying coworkers? Are you sick of wasting away your precious time on filling out menial paperwork? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions and are feeling fed up with life in general, then you might just be overdue for a viewing of Mike Judge’s OFFICE SPACE. In his first live-action feature film, Judge weaves everyday annoyances into a hilarious, relatable workplace comedy.

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Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a bored programmer stuck in his cubicle job at Initech. On a daily basis, Peter finds himself beset by constant criticism from eight different bosses, loaded with frustrating paperwork, and depressed by sheer boredom. In an effort to combat his depression, Peter visits a hypnotherapist and is put into a deep state of relaxation…only to have the therapist drop dead before he can bring Peter back to the real world. Now invigorated with a new lease on life, Peter decides that he’ll do whatever he wants with little regard to the consequences at work and soon finds himself flourishing with upper management. When the company decides to fire Peter’s hard-working friends Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), Peter decides that the best course of action is to rebel against Initech…much to the dismay of his waitress girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston).

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OFFICE SPACE was hardly a financial success at the box office, earning back two million over its 10 million dollar budget. However, the film soon found a cult following after its disappointing stint in theaters. Though details of the cubicle environment are exaggerated for comedic effect, OFFICE SPACE holds a lot of truth in its perfectly paced 89-minute running time. Judge based the script off a series of animated shorts which in turn came from experiences at his first job. Ties to real-world office politics and stupidity raise this film above simply being a comedy, making the story far more relatable and the laughs even bigger as a result. The grounded sense of humor lends itself to running gags about TPS reports, Michael Bolton’s music, a malfunctioning printer and a red stapler. Though those topics might not sound especially funny, Judge transforms them into something truly special.

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Another great narrative technique that Judge employs is a careful use of subplots. There are a handful of smaller storylines in OFFICE SPACE that wouldn’t make features by themselves, but blend naturally into the movie’s main plot. Joanna’s flair feud with her smug restaurant manager will likely cherished by anyone who’s worked in food service. Peter and Joanna’s blooming relationship comes off as a believable love story and doesn’t distract from the workplace comedy angle. The film’s best subplot easily belongs to company vice president Bill Lumbergh’s (Gary Cole) constant harassment of bespectacled weirdo Milton Waddams (Stephen Root). This was ripped straight out of Judge’s early animated shorts. Cole’s passive-aggressive boss and Root’s ginger-haired oddball serve as the film’s two biggest highlights.

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Ron Livingston has never struck me as an acting talent to be reckoned with, but he perfectly embodies everyman Peter. This protagonist’s earlier moments keep the viewer in an appropriately frustrated mindset and then we feel elated with him as he begins to enjoy his day-to-day life more. For my money, Peter Gibbons will likely be the best performance we ever see from Livingston. Jennifer Aniston, who was in her fifth season of FRIENDS at this point, is great as Peter’s not-so-ambitious love interest. Joanna is a kung-fu loving girl who just wants to live her life to the best of her ability. She also gives some very simple, but true life advice during her final scene.

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Other colorful supporting characters include the Bobs, a pair of corporate “housecleaners” played by Paul Willson and an especially hilarious John C. McGinley. These two lay-off managers don’t take up a ton of screen time and make the most of their scenes. Ajay Naidu hasn’t starred in too many noteworthy movie roles, but he steals a number of moments as good-natured Samir. He also pulls off a brief breakdance move that cracks me up every time I see it. Finally, David Herman has befallen a similar fate to Naidu in that he’s mainly a supporting role and hasn’t received a ton of big screen time (aside from the first three seasons of MAD TV). That’s truly a shame, because he has plenty of great moments as profanity-filled, self-loathing Michael Bolton. It’s also worth noting that this movie’s rap soundtrack makes scenes of these white-collar rebels even funnier with its obvious contrast.

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There are many reasons why OFFICE SPACE has spawned such a notable reputation and cult following since it’s so-so theatrical reception. This film resonates with plenty of pissed off employees and comedy lovers simply for its honest, unblinking nature at stupid office politics, crappy workplaces and everyday annoyances. Judge’s script feels genuine and hilarious, never going too far over-the-top to be completely unbelievable or non-relatable. The many subplots ensure that there’s never a laugh-free scene on the screen, while the main storyline is likely to leave the viewer with an upbeat attitude afterwards. OFFICE SPACE is not only one of the best comedies to come out of the 90’s, it’s one of my all-time favorite comedies! If nothing else, this film is sure to cure a case of the Mondays.

Grade: A+

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