The topic of leadership in the workplace came up over lunch today, and naturally, Office Space came to mind. After all, the film’s got universal appeal. If you’ve ever worked in an office, or worked any place for that matter, you can surely appreciate how spot-on Office Space depicts workplace politics and corporate mentality, and it does so with such hilarity. Like Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon, Office Space succeeds so well at satirizing the notion that office life is a nightmare and that office work is spirit-crushing and soul-sucking.
Mike Judge made Office Space a smart, modern-day office comedy because he paid attention to the tiny details and satirized the things we’re all familiar with – things that even slightly exaggerated, generate the intended comic effect. Think about Peter’s commute to work. He’s sitting in his car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when a man with a walker slowly, traveling faster than anyone in a vehicle, bypasses him. Think, too, about Milton, Peter’s disgruntled co-worker, whose cubicle is relocated so many times that he eventually winds up in a cubicle that’s walled-in on every side. Recall when Peter’s supervisor reminds him that all reports must now come with a cover sheet. Then another manager comes along and reminds him of the same thing. And then another. Judge’s insinuation is that when the jobs of managers overlap and the same information is being relayed repeatedly, there’s no real need for all those managers.
Office Space succeeds because it recreates the office work environment so accurately. The vapidity of the corporate world and the blandness of cubicle life are rendered so familiar by the simple yet effective cinematography and set design and by the cast of characters that surround Peter. The four gray walls that house the guy who’s just happy to be working and the guy who’s on the verge of losing his mind resonate with any former or current cubicle workers.
Office Space grossed unremarkable numbers at the box office, but thankfully, it found life on video, DVD and cable so though very few people saw it in theatres, everybody’s seen the film. It’s a memorable movie that succeeds due to its sly and smart satirical comedy rather than on physical or gross-out humour. Judge’s view of office life as a banal, meaningless and unsatisfying culture where the minutiae of corporate beaurocracy is overwhelming and the work sucks – makes for a funny, entertaining and smart observation and the fact that a comedy can ring true and be funny is a pretty rare feat. On paper, a scene with three guys smashing a printer with baseball bats in a field may not sound all that compelling or funny, but that scene is easily one of the funniest in the film and Judge brings to life what has surely been a fantasy of many an office worker who've felt completely fed up by paper jam error messages on printers that have no paper jam.