Gary Cole in Office Space
Gary Cole in Office Space

It’s summer time, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for writing about something other than my usual assortment of depressing foreign dramas, grim documentaries, and art-house snoozers. How does a comedy sound this week – and an American one at that?

Despite being one of the country’s most respected repositories of film history, Pacific Film Archive isn’t averse to having a little fun from time to time. How else to explain their decision to host ‘Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990-2010’, a series incorporating such decidedly lowbrow fare as Borat and Knocked Up?

The series, however, isn’t all farts, body parts, and excrement-in-a-bag. Directed by Mike Judge (‘Beavis and Butthead’, ‘King of the Hill’), Office Space (screening at 8:45 PM on Friday, July 25th) is a decidedly old school piece of satire, its spot-on analysis of American work culture as relevant now as it was in the waning days of the 20th century.

Released in 1999, that year of grand pre-millennial tension in which rumors of computer-driven infrastructure collapse ran rampant, Office Space takes place at a medium sized software firm named Initech (“Initiative + Technology!”). It’s here that office drone Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) assiduously updates banking software designed to circumvent the looming Y2K bug.

Peter’s a good kid, the kind of guy you’d happily bring home to mother. His job, however, isn’t a particularly satisfying one – and it’s all made worse by boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, in the performance of a lifetime), an oily, Porsche-driving suck-up whose deadpan mug gives everyone a case of the Mondays every day of the week.

When Bill announces the arrival of consultant Bob Slidell (legendary character actor John C. McGinley), alarm bells ring throughout the office. A consultant means only one thing in corporate America: downsizing, and soon enough everyone at Initech is rationalizing their professional existence to the moustachio’d efficiency expert.

When Peter’s turn comes, however, he throws a curveball: not only is his work boring and meaningless, he tells Bob, he also spends most of his day not working. Expecting to be pink-slipped immediately, Peter begins clearing off his desk – but discovers that his ‘insights’ are so valuable he’s now being considered for promotion.

Turning the tables on Bill, Peter begins coming to work whenever he pleases, wearing whatever he pleases – even when it’s not Hawaiian Shirt Friday. At the same time, he begins plotting to defraud Initech with a computer virus developed by fellow drone Michael Bolton (‘MAD TV’ veteran David Herman) and wooing chain restaurant hostess Joanna (Jennifer Aniston).

Laugh out loud funny for much of its first sixty minutes, Office Space peters out during its final reel but is still amongst the best comedies of the last quarter century. It’s a sweet but not cloying confection that doesn’t overdo its romantic subplot, its Swingline stapler and ‘flair’ punchlines now deeply embedded in pop culture. If you’ve ever spent time at a thankless cubicle job or glumly celebrated the birthday of an unloved supervisor, you’ll want to clock in for Office Space‘s ninety minutes.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...