At the moment, I cannot remember the comedy I recently watched that I thought was hilarious as a young person, but as a forty-something I now find tedious and uncomfortable. Either way, it should not come as a surprise that such a thing could happen. Our tastes change as we mature. It is inevitable, like death and taxes. As such, we should appreciate more the ones that stand the test of time. One of these is Office Space (1999). I believe I saw it a couple times in the theater when it premiered. I probably still have a DVD copy somewhere in my boxes of stored material at my dad’s house. I should probably sell those, but that is a topic for another day. I even bought the soundtrack for the film. It is hard to believe that it came out over twenty years ago, and I do not think I have seen it in ten years. Hence, when watching it recently, I was worried that it was going to be an hour and a half of me bored. I am happy to report that while I may not have laughed as uproariously as before, there are still plenty of chuckle-worthy moments.
Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) begins Office Space as so many of us do their weekly work days: sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to their place of employment. This is only the start of his woes. As he finally trudges into the office, the static electricity built up in his shoes shocks him as he turns the door handle. Nearly as soon as he has reached his cubicle, one in a faceless corporate sea of work areas, his boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) approaches. In Bill’s slow, even tones, he gently but firmly reminds Peter that he did not do the necessary TPS reports, and wonders if his underling received the memo reminding everyone about this requirement. Peter heaves the sigh of a long-suffering drone, says he forgot, and that he will remember them in the future. Then comes another manager with the same message. And a phone call. Even his two co-worker friends, Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), remind him about it. This last comes when, after only a few moments at his desk, Peter cannot take it and request that they get coffee at a nearby establishment called Tchotchkie’s. Working at this chain restaurant is Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress for whom Peter has the hots. However, he cannot ask Joana out because he is currently dating Anne (Alexandra Wentworth), despite his suspicions (along with everyone else) that she is cheating on him. In order to hopefully repair their relationship, Anne gets Peter to agree to go to a therapy session. While there, Peter tells the therapist, Dr. Swanson (Michael McShane), about his problems with work, and that because of it, each progressive day is the worst ever. To help, Dr. Swanson decides to attempt hypnosis. Unfortunately for Dr. Swanson, in the middle of the process he suffers a major stroke and dies, leaving Peter under. The next day is a Saturday, and despite the fact that Bill had ordered him to come to work over the weekend, Peter stays in bed each day. When he finally emerges from his slumber, he casually deletes the several messages from Bill, and blissfully ignores the worried one from Anne when she also confirms her unfaithfulness. Unphased, instead of going to work, Peter heads to Tchotchkie’s and asks Joanna to lunch. Proceeding a slightly uncomfortable first few minutes, what draws her in is his expressed love for the Kung Fu television show from the 1970s. They are both fans, and it is the start of their romance. Meanwhile, at the office, the long-rumored efficiency consultants, Bob Slydell (John C. McGinley) and Bob Porter (Paul Wilson), commence interviewing all the employees. Peter arrives, not to work, but to write down Joanna’s phone number. He is also reminded of his scheduled meeting with “the Bobs.” Against the advice of his friends, Peter talks to them, and in their conversation there unfolds the entirety of his absurd existence at the company. He then leaves, happily side-stepping Bill on the way out. Things are going well until the Bobs tell Peter that not only are they going to promote him, but that they are firing Michael and Samir. Because Peter sees the company as evil, he urges Michael to give him a computer virus that will take fractions of cents on the dollar off their company’s transactions, and deposit them in a bank account they opened. It seems simple enough until they check the bank account the day after they implement their program and find hundreds of thousands of dollars, an amount that would surely not go unnoticed. Ultimately feeling responsible, Peter decides to return the money and take the blame. Making the cash into bank checks, he slips them and a confession under Bill’s door at night. The next morning, he travels to his former place of employment and finds it on fire. You see, the mumbled threats of disgruntled employee Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) of committing arson if his demands are not met finally come to fruition. The flames destroy the evidence of Peter’s crimes. Moving on with his life, Peter takes a construction job with his neighbor, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader). And guess who made off the money? Milton. The film closes with him muttering about not having his drink prepared correctly by the staff of the island resort to which he traveled.
Towards the end of Office Space, Peter tells Joanna that he might be going to jail for taking money from his company. They had been fighting because she felt uncomfortable with his explanation of his plot, calling it for what it is: stealing. He complicates the situation by giving her grief for sleeping with Lumbergh, although it turns out to be a different person than his hated boss. In apologizing to her for his behavior, he wonders aloud why he cannot just go to work and be happy like everyone else. She replies with some sage words: few people like their jobs, but we have to make the best of it. An earlier moment speaks to this point as well. The one employee most worried about the Bobs is Tom Smykowski (Richard Riehle). His job is clearly a superfluous one, and when he inevitably loses it, he attempts to commit suicide. What saves him is the timely appearance of his wife (Linda Wakeman). Seeing her gives him the will to make the best of a crappy situation, even though his next move involves pulling out of his driveway and getting t-boned by oncoming traffic. Still, he receives a large settlement from the accident that allows him to pursue his million-dollar idea of a “jump to conclusions matt.” It is ridiculous, of course, but it also speaks to the principle of making the best of it. In thinking of how this applies to the Catholic Faith, I am reminded of the lives of male and female religious, particularly those in the cloister. It is a hard life. Clearly, few people want to be virtually cut off from the world, forced to labor in one place for the rest of their lives. There is a saying that gives meaning to what they do: “Ora et labora,” work and prayer. The tasks monks and nuns perform may seem trivial and mundane to us, but it is the prayer that elevates it all. More specifically, work and prayer are not separate. In many respects, work is prayer, and it suffuses their daily labor. It is something that I earnestly seek in my own work, which is easier said than done, to be sure. If Peter would see his own duties in the same light, he probably would not have the same existential crisis. In turn, there would be no movie.
Office Space is rated R, so it is clearly not for a general audience. There are some dated, off color remarks about race and sexuality, though it is not as obvious as you might expect for a film from the late 1990s. Otherwise, there are still some genuinely funny moments. It was a pivotal movie for me in helping me learn how to relax. I used to be pretty tightly wound, though some might argue that I still am. At any rate, it is still a fairly entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.