Tuesday, September 25, 2018

9 to 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980)

It’s strange that as I write this in the late summer of 2018, Colin Higgins’ 9 to 5 remains a relevant enough cultural touchstone that ideas for a sequel are reportedly being kicked around. Of course, there’s a lasting feel-good rush to its depiction of collective female triumph, and it’s a little surprising (not really in a good way) how much of the film’s prescription for a productive office environment – equal pay, flexible work hours, job-sharing, onsite daycare, visually pleasing workspaces and so forth – would still constitute a cutting-edge employer. But the film is unnecessarily and counter-productively rigged, most glaringly by making the oppressive male boss, Hart, not just an adulterer, hypocrite, stealer of ideas etc. but a downright criminal embezzler; when he’s ultimately removed, it’s not through the operation of justice or transparency, but via the eccentric whims of the Board Chair (Sterling Hayden). It’s grating now that we never get to see one of the three women (Judy, the one played by Jane Fonda) contribute more to the office than to screw up the Xerox machine; even more so that the movie should remind us of this in the closing montage. Still, overall it’s pretty well-paced, and seldom actively grating: one appreciates the somewhat perverse streak evidenced in their early fantasies of how they’ll bring Hart down, or the sequence of stealing the wrong dead body, or the abidingly odd sight of the bondage-fantasy circumstances in which they keep Hart captive (for weeks). These amount only to a symbolic undermining though: in the end, the movie can barely chip at the power of corporatization (Fonda would take another, much underrated, shot at it shortly afterwards, in Pakula’s Rollover). Perhaps it’s not so surprising after all that it took over 35 years to gather the energy for a meaningful second attack…

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