OFFICE SPACE: Finding Comedy In Monotony
Office Space is a film that pokes at the small moments that we all deal with on a daily basis, making them funny in a relatable way.
2017 is just getting started, but the holiday high is over and you might be realizing that the new year hasn’t changed your life that much or even at all. Pretty soon you’ll be scavenging for TV shows and movies to dive head into, to escape your day-to-day life. High-intensity dramas and fantasy are great choices to get yourself as far away as possible from real life, but you need a little comedy in your life too.
A perfect choice for you to watch and hold dearly to your hearts is a 1999 cult comedy classic, Office Space. As the title suggest, this film takes place surrounding the daily life of an office worker. Hear me out! It sounds like it’ll hit a little bit too close to home, and you’re right. But it’s also the genius of the film. Mike Judge focuses on the most recognizable nuances of life in a search for comedy. In Office Space, there is a spectrum of comedy that goes from the most subtle to obviously structured, but all grounded in a relatability that shows that this film is meant for its audience.
Life Sucks, Laugh It Off
The film begins introducing the characters and style of the film, as they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on their commute to work. With a blank face, Peter (Ron Livingston) looks out his window to see an old man in a walker, inch up on him and eventually pass him as he sits in his car not moving one inch. Anyone that has done their time in traffic has thought that walking would get them to where they needed to go faster than sitting in their car. Judge took this idea and manifested it in this old man hobbling along with his walker but still passing Peter with ease. Though his face is stoic, his anger is shown a few cars over by Samir (Ajay Naidu). As he comes to a halt, he begins to scream indecipherable words and bangs on his steering wheel.
There isn’t anything that is happening in the scene that is outrageous or screams “this is totally made up”. It’s extremely familiar, and because of that it makes it borderline painful to watch because you empathize with the characters, but still you laugh because at least it isn’t you. However, though it is a realistic situation, at the same time this situation is portrayed as the absolute worst it can be, a little nudge to the viewer that it’s supposed to be a joke. This setup is a consistent tool used throughout the film, and what sets up its overall tone.
As Peter tries to survive his day in the office, he is repeatedly kicked while he’s down. Sensing his depressed mood, unusually enthusiastic co-workers call him out by saying “Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!” When you’re already loathing your Monday, the last thing you need is someone to harass you about it and definitely not with a cringe-worthy line like that. He is greeted with the phrase in the office and again by his waiter at lunch. Though the line is only used a handful of times in the beginning of the film, it is one of the most memorable quotes. It emulates what Judge is trying to do in Office Space, pointing out the sheer absurdity of life to crack a joke.
Though the film primarily focuses on Peter and his co-workers, the same concept is shown through his girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston). She is a waitress as Chotchkie’s, a T.G.I.Friday’s-esque restaurant that requires striped green and white polo shirts, suspenders, and a minimum of fifteen pieces of flair: flair being obnoxious buttons and pins to adorn the employee’s suspenders with the goal to help them “express themselves”. Joanna who, like Peter hates her job, only wears the minimum fifteen pieces of flair. Stuart (Judge) her boss, who sports a terribly obvious wig and mustache ensemble with a vest covered in flair, constantly lectures Joanna about her lack of enthusiasm towards her uniform.
Stuart has all the seriousness in the world, as he repeatedly speaks about flair as if it were as important as employees washing their hands. There are plenty of restaurants that force their servers to wear a costume as a uniform and plenty of bosses that have chastised their workers about them. When you think about it, these are probably hilarious conversations that no one ever thinks about, except for Judge. This is one of the bigger “bits” in the film; however, he uses the same approach of taking an unseen detail and blowing it up.
Spice It Up With Some Music
Judge takes advantage of using a repertoire of hip-hop and rap in the soundtrack to create comedic juxtaposition to the characters and plot. A reoccurring joke in the film focuses on the character Michael Bolton (David Herman). Yes, his name in and of itself is a joke, and he is further harassed as multiple characters in the film point out that he shares the name with the male pop sensation. Every time he gets asked if he enjoys Michael Bolton’s music, you see him grimace and you feel for the poor guy knowing that he is a gangster rap fan.
Bolton is a visibly nerdy, scrawny guy that at a glance may seem the type to like terrible pop music, but in fact on his commute to work he can (impressively) rap to “No Tears” by Scarface, and rap posters adorn his cubicle wall. There are plenty of Michael’s out there, guys that don’t exude their taste, but it’s always funny to learn what they really do like. (Also it’s just plain funny that his name is Michael Bolton. His music is awful! Except “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” is great for karaoke.)
Music in film is typically used to heighten what is being shown on screen, and it is done so by choosing songs that compliment the scene. Judge goes against this notion by choosing songs that juxtapose what is happening. One of the best scenes of the film is when Peter, Michael, and Samir destroy the always dysfunctioning company printer. Shot in slow motion, they circle the printer and are filmed from below, mimicking the style of ’90s rap music videos. As they beat the printer to pieces, the lyrics “die mother f*cker” repeat to the sound of gunshots. The scene ends with them walking away from the destroyed machine with a swagger in their step as if they defeated their enemy in a turf battle.
What makes the scene is that, despite the fact it is so purposefully meant to be funny, the dedication to making the scene look as hardcore almost makes them seem as badass as they feel. This scene is one of the most contrived jokes of the film, and the extra effort is so worth it.
There isn’t anything outright hilarious in Office Space; it isn’t a wildly funny, classic comedy. Its premise demands to be glossed over and forgotten. But it is a tribute to everyone that knows how boring life can be, and its gift is a bunch of little jokes made just for you. Typically breaking down comedy uncovers its secrets and takes away its magic. However, in the case of Office Space, it’s necessary to realize what Judge is doing and praise him for his craft. Going through life, in the monotony and the worst times, there’s something ridiculous to it all; he took the worst and the most boring parts of life and made it funny, just by realizing that.
Can you take on the challenge? Or in the least, did I sell Office Space as a movie to watch? Any Michael Bolton fans out there to defend his music? Let me know in the comments below!
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