Independent Pick: Office Space (1999)
As the first live-action feature film from writer-director Mike Judge (Beavis And Butthead), 1999’s Office Space is based on his own cartoon series, Milton, which aired on MTV and Saturday Night Live through the 1990s. In this movie, however, Milton is a supporting character, played by Stephen Root.
Instead, the film centres Peter (Ron Livingston) – a disgruntled colleague of Milton’s – at the non-descript, bleak IT company Initech. Peter is the nexus of a group of unhappy workers, which includes Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman). Samir hates the fact that nobody can pronounce his name correctly, and Michael hates that he shares a name with a singer whose work he loathes. Milton, we discover, has had his employment terminated years earlier, but was not informed. Since a systems glitch continues to deliver his salary, he turns up every day and mumbles to himself. The staff members are all hideously mistreated by their deeply unpleasant boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole).
After Peter is promoted, Samir and Michael are fired, and Milton is relocated to the basement, Peter masterminds a scheme whereby a software virus will transfer pennies from Initech to their own bank account – slowly building a large sum of money for them, undetected by their employers. When it goes wrong, and actually transfers $305,326.13 in just a few days, Peter must act quickly to resolve the situation. He soon discovers, however, that some things are out of his hands.
With a supporting cast that features Jennifer Aniston, John C. McGinley, Mike McShane and Orlando Jones, Office Space is a movie that offers something unusual and entertaining. Despite the cartoonish nature of some of the characters (particularly Milton), they are entirely relatable. We’ve all known somebody like one of the characters in this movie, and we can all empathize with the situations they find themselves in with their employers.
It is, ultimately, a stinging indictment of the faceless, bland, cookie-cutter corporations that populate industrial estates across the US – demanding their employees leave originality and creativity at the door when they clock in. Mike Judge perfectly observes the ritualistic culling of individuality in these work environments, and threads that theme seamlessly throughout. In those terms, it may sound relentlessly depressing, but thankfully, this filmmaker knows just how to tread that fine comedic line, and delivers a satisfying movie as a result. Office Space will leave you with renewed vigour and a spring in your step – because you related to these characters, or because you’re relieved that your work-week was actually better than theirs. Either way, it comes highly recommended.