Rubik's Cubicle

Rereleased this week, Office Space may be the first DVD classic.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 2, 2005

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Office Space: Special Edition With Flair
A-
Includes: Retrospective featurette, deleted scenes, DVD-ROM.
You'll Like It If You Like: Dilbert, The Daily Show, The Office, Mike Judge, Jennifer Aniston.

Now that movies are dead, what makes a classic? As we inch through the glacially slow end of the cellphone-chattering/popcorn-munching/baby-crying/25-minutes-of-ads movie-theater experience, what's the DVD-revolution equivalent of big-screen icons like Casablanca or Gone With the Wind?

Don't look now, but it could be Office Space, rereleased this week in a "special edition" with a making-of documentary, featuring all the actors plus creator Mike Judge (the man behind classic cartoons Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill), a bunch of deleted scenes, and even a DVD-ROM for your own office space.

Released in 1999 to small box office returns, Office Space has become a DVD phenomenon (hence the pocket-soaking rerelease), maybe because its small scale perfectly fits the small screen and the mood of being at home. Movies are larger than life, but DVDs, like TV and music, are life-not just "part of our lives" in the old way of thinking about it, but indistinguishable from it.

Office Space is at eye level. It has things that feel as soft and familiar as an old hoodie-people who look real (including Jennifer Aniston, goddess of what Judge calls "domestic hotness" in his making-of interview); offices with weasels and empty-headed bureaucrats and power-mad bosses; fake-peppy chain restaurants; and just a bad attitude in general. "What if we're still doing this when we're 50?" asks ordinary-guy hero Peter Gibbons, whose mood of quiet desperation sharpens the movie's comedy.

Peter (played by Ron Livingston, now familiar as Carrie's boyfriend Berger on Sex and the City) occupies a cubicle at a faceless software company. He's an amiable regular guy in the style Livingston's perfected in movies like Little Black Book and Pretty Persuasion, yet the meaninglessness of his life gnaws away at him.

"Ever since I started working," he tells a therapist, "every single day of my life has been worse than the day before. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."

But this existential pessimism-worthy of Bergman's or Antonioni's European art cinema of the 1960s-comes wrapped in a pitch-perfect comedy about American office life, so it feels light. It floats. It registers as an attitude and an aura rather than a heavy-handed message.

Judge achieves this by anchoring his movie in its characters, and building those characters on very specific behaviors and language. Blowhard boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) has honed his Dilbert-like "go ahead" approach that makes people feel like they're taking action when he's really just ordering them around-as when he says into the answering machine of an oversleeping employee, "If you could just go ahead and get here as soon as possible, that would be terrific."

The movie's most unforgettably poignant figure is the one who started it all-Milton Waddams, the mumbling office nerd who starred in the Mike Judge cartoons that grew into the live-action movie. Memorably embodied by Stephen Root (who, ironically, played the pompous boss on TV sitcom NewsRadio) as a meek, acned misfit who, in a parody of Forrest Gump, mutters to himself at the bus stop, Milton keeps getting moved to worse and worse desks-and ultimately even stops getting paid-yet he zealously guards his office prerogatives, like his fire engine-red stapler and his permission to play his radio "at a reasonable volume."

Like Ricky Gervais in his brilliant British TV series The Office, Judge sees that the workplace is a sanctuary and a substitute family, even if it's also got a family's dysfunctions, rivalries and resentments. And like David Mamet in the ultimate office drama Glengarry Glen Ross, Judge views American office culture as a subset of American falseness and hypocrisy, and office workers as either with it (self-deluding liars) or against it (cynical antiheroes).

Judge's vision of the squirrelly hollowness of American culture extends to know-nothing efficiency experts who chucklingly fire people, and self-important managers drunk with their meager power-above all the chain restaurant manager (played by Judge himself) who harasses a slacker waitress (Aniston) to show more "flair," whether she likes it or not.

Against authority and liars-and suggesting they're the same thing-the movie taps the same smarty-pants vein as The Daily Show. Yet it's also got the we're-all-in-this-together camaraderie that's the upside of office life, and that cuts the film's negativity and cynicism. "It's not just about me and my dream of not working. It's about all of us together," Peter says earnestly to his friends. And indeed the movie's second half shows their misfired plan to band together and bring down the company.

Office Space has the same distinctively American mix of tones as Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill-a jaundiced eye on culture combined with a genuine celebration of friendship as the one true thing amid all the BS. That makes it less acrid and cynical than an earlier office comedy like Billy Wilder's The Apartment, the dark satire that won the Best Picture Oscar in 1960. It makes it more homey.

Judge, accustomed to short cartoons, doesn't really know where to go after about 45 minutes, so he throws in a shaggy-dog storyline and spins his wheels for a while. It doesn't matter much, since our connection to this movie isn't about the story. It's about the people and the mood and the ways of feeling and being that still seem fresh and exact six years later. It's as if Judge already envisioned the era of Jon Stewart, when cynicism and sincerity wouldn't feel like contradictions in terms.


God's Little Acre

If nothing else, this strange, almost hallucinatory 1958 family melodrama will hold your attention with its bizarroville cast: bad TV icons Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-O) and Tina Louise (if you gotta ask, you probably don't care); roly-poly Vegas comic Buddy Hackett, in a semiserious role as a candidate for local sheriff who seems to have time-traveled from Mayberry RFD; old Irish ham Robert Ryan in the lead; and wannabe hunk Aldo Ray showing off the shag-rug body hair (yup, back hair too) and flabby abs that made a movie hunk in 1958. The story, such as it is, follows the tangled loves and failed dreams of a poor Georgia farm family-a Giant (or Gone With the Wind or Written on the Wind) knockoff, in which the loopy dad keeps hopelessly digging for gold, the daughter-in-law lusts after the son-in-law, and a laid-off mill worker tries to break into the closed factory and turn all its power back on (except he does it in the middle of the night, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense). The acting is all over the place-Ryan channels Walter Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Ray channels Montgomery Clift-but the movie has its own juicy momentum and potboiler energy. It's not the greatest good bad movie, but it's still a lively slice of '50s corn. B-

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