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'Office Space': Occupational Therapy

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999

  Movie Critic

Office Space
Ron Livingston, David Herman and Ajay Naidu prepare to interface with some office equipment. (20th Century Fox)

Mike Judge
Jennifer Aniston;
Ron Livingston;
Gary Cole;
Alexandra Wentworth;
Stephen Root;
Todd Duffey;
Jennifer Emerson;
David Herman;
John C. McGinley
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
Contains nudity and obscenity
At the risk of losing all credibility, I must confess my deep affection for Beavis and Butt-head, America's hopelessly irredeemable couch potatoes, as well as the whole cartoon cast of "King of the Hill," especially that Boomhauer, whose Texan-accented machine-gun mumblings can bring tears to my eyes.

Mike Judge, who created both television shows, has a delicious ability to simultaneously embrace and lampoon America's suburban TV-fixated culture.

"Office Space," Judge's first venture into live-action movies (based on a series of animation shorts called "Milton"), was an enjoyable experience for this die-hard fan. But I could love it only as far as it let me. Although the movie has hilarious moments throughout, its thematic thinness is writ fairly large on the big screen.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a Kyle-MacLachlan antihero type, stares depressed at his computer all day. He works at INITECH Corporation, one of those dehumanizing, computer/ tech offices, located in an artificially designed landscape, that you can find anywhere from Gaithersburg to Reston.

Peter is just one prisoner in this cubicled hell. His colleagues include the unfortunately named Michael Bolton (David Herman), forever doomed to tell people that, no, he's no relation to the famous singer and, no, he doesn't like his crappy music either.

They also include Samir (Ajay Naidu), a savvy programmer who has to suffer the indignity of no one being able to pronounce his last name; and, over there in Going Postal territory, Milton, a Mike Judge creation if ever there was one. With raw, rubbed skin and coke-bottle glasses, this nebbish clutches to his prize stapler and mumbles semi-coherent complaints about how he has been moved around constantly and how management told him he could play his radio at a reasonable volume.

Running the program is Peter's smarmy boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, who played Mike Brady in "The Brady Bunch Movie"), dressed in the slicko duds of the office park manager: the expensive shirt, the suspenders matched perfectly with his tie, the eternal coffee cup in hand and the unctuous patter that starts with a "yeeeeeaaaaah" at the beginning of every sentence.

You gotta love this world.

After a visit to an "occupational hypno-therapist," Peter's malaise reaches a subversive, almost Zen level. Now completely at peace with his ennui, he decides to stop coming to work. Not only that, he suddenly gets the confidence to invite waitress Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) to lunch. She agrees. Suddenly, Peter's on top of the world. No longer intimidated by anything, he even has the gall to tell two efficiency consultants – both called Bob – how little he cares about his job.

"So you've been missing a lot of work lately?" says one of the Bobs (John C. McGinley).

"I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob," says Peter.

What do the Bobs do about this subversive, straight-talking guy? They recommend a promotion. But enough of the plot. It's the Mike Judge touch that matters. I particularly appreciated "Chotchkie's," Joanna's loathsomely cheerful theme restaurant where job performance is measured in terms of how chirrupy the waiters can be and how many cute message buttons (called "flairs") they can stick to their suspenders.

When Peter sits down to eat and refuses to act jolly enough for waiter Brian (Todd Duffey), the server is taken aback, but only momentarily.

"Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays!" he says.

Obviously, no one's looking for Descartian ramblings on the late 20th century's information worker-bee ethos, but the movie's wonderful setup makes you want something more, something bigger, to sustain your interest.

"If there is a message to this movie," declares Judge in the movie's press notes, "then I have failed as a director."

But whether he wants to admit it or not, "Office Space" raises questions about society but backs out of answering them. The closest we get to wisdom is when Joanna advises Peter to find a job that suits him. Yeah, but what if no job suits him? What about the fact that work is truly awful and most of us hate it? Why should we have to do things we don't want to? What would happen to the world if we all stopped working? Enjoyable as it is, "Office Space" doesn't come to a conclusion so much as break for a commercial.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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