Monday, 23 January 2017

Office Space (4 Stars)

When I watched this satirical film today I had a nagging feeling that it reminded me of something. Eventually I figured it out. "Catch 22" (the novel, not the film). It's a different sort of story, but a similar sort of humour. I'm sure that if you watch it you'll see what I mean.

The film shows the working life of an employee in Initech, a computer company responsible for banking and accounting software. Everyone is crammed into cubicles in an open space office. The cubicles are so small that people have to squeeze in and out of them. In "Catch 22" Yossarian censors letters written by US soldiers to their wives by blacking out adjectives and other irrelevant information. In "Office Space" Peter Gibbons processes TPS reports, methods of quality control for the software they produce. Nobody in the company, especially not the boss, knows what the employees do in their cubicles, so external consultants are called in to interview everyone, with the intention of streamlining the company by firing anyone whose job is deemed unnecessary.

Peter's best friends in the company are scheduled to be fired, but Peter himself tells the consultants that he arrives late every day, spends hours staring at his computer screen and only works on the TPS reports for about 15 minutes a day. The consultants are so impressed that they recommend him for promotion. Also noteworthy is Milton, an employee who was fired five years ago, but the company forgot to tell him, so he still comes to work every day.

The only thing Peter enjoys in his life is the time he spends with his new girlfriend, Joanna, a waitress who works in a small restaurant next to the office building shared by Initech. It's a bland little restaurant which would never attract customers under normal circumstances, but because of its location office workers eat there for the sake of convenience. Joanna is also frustrated with her job, especially the endless discussions with her boss about how many badges she should wear on her outfit.

This is a parody of large impersonal American companies. Nobody knows what anyone else does, and by squashing everyone closer together people know even less about one another. Anyone who works in a company like that can sympathise with the characters in the film.

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