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From Under A Rock: Office Space

March 12, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Office Space  


There are fewer than ten comedies I would say I “grew up with” and this week’s pick is certainly one of them. It captured a time where being anti-authority was big in pop culture, and executed it to perfection. Movies where the lead is an “everyman” can be tricky, and for my money this movie did it just as well as anyone.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron and Michael settled a family feud with Blue Ruin. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock by showing him that damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. It’s Office Space.

Office Space
Released: February 19th, 1999
Directed by: Mike Judge
Written by: Mike Judge
Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons
Gary Cole as Bill Lumbergh
Stephen Root as Milton Waddams
Jennifer Aniston as Joanna

Michael Ornelas: Peter Gibbons is you and me. He’s the guy who shows up to a job he doesn’t care about, hates it, but settles for it anyways. But while we fantasize about breaking that cycle, he actually does it. It may be accidental, but this is one of those “Daaaaaamn, I wish I could get away with doing that!” kind of movies.

Aaron Hubbard: Oddly enough, my first impression is that this felt like one of the minor subplots of American Beauty turned into an entire film. The efficiency expert, the guy who doesn’t like his job and quits. It’s definitely representative of the time that it’s set in, and I have to admit… it’s pretty darn awesome because of it.
The Clearest Catalyst
Michael: I’m a much bigger fan of premise-based comedy than I am joke-based comedy. And premise definitely sets you up for so many jokes, but being funny just for the sake of it is wasted on me. What I appreciate about this movie is the hypnosis scene. Peter goes under, gets hypnotized to not have a care in the world, and then his hypnotherapist dies of a heart attack before he can wake him back up. That’s a pretty brilliant premise that now opens up the entire world of the movie (which we’ve already established at this workplace that he hates), and every single situation becomes a playground for comedic ideas.

Aaron: I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that scene or how it played into the broader scope of the movie. I mean, I don’t need hypnotherapy to stop caring about my job (just kidding). But I think the reason it works in this movie is that Office Space has a rather unique, surrealistic vibe to it. There certainly is a plot, but it almost feels like a live action adaptation of non-sequitur comics you’d find in the “funnies” section of a Sunday Newspaper. A lot of the skits are just that to me; skits. But almost all of them are funny. In fact I can’t think of a single scene that didn’t at least merit a chuckle from me. It’s consistently entertaining.

Michael: Yeah, the plot winds up being “lazy guy who’s promoted and hardworking friends who are fired decide to set up a program in their company’s payroll that allows them to slowly steal from the company.” So at the very least, I’d like to defend the idea that the plot may be disjointed. But it certainly has the lackadaisical commitment of its main character. The movie is certainly an extended montage of a character relentlessly pursuing his happiness, and ditching things that bother him. In one sense, it’s incredibly selfish, but it’s admirable and he manages to do the whole thing without really looking like a dick.
Static Isn’t Bad
Aaron: So, if you’ll indulge me a little bit, I’d like to take a bit of a trip down memory lane to High School English Class where most of us learn the basics of storytelling structure. One of the key things we learn about is Dynamic and Static characters; dynamic characters change over the course of a story, while static characters stay the same throughout. I’ve found that it’s become almost too easy for critics to immediately proclaim that dynamic characters are the be-all-end-all of strong storytelling and are automatically better than their static counterparts. I’d like to present Office Space as a counter-argument. Peter Gibbons changes the most, but he’s not the character I’m going to remember from this movie. Hell, he’s not even the third or fourth character I’m going to remember most from this movie. Bill Lumbergh and Milton Waddams have almost no true character development, but they have memorable personality quirks that define who they are, and set the stage for some of the most memorable interactions and one-liners in the movie. Office Space thrives on a static, sterile environment where nothing ever changes. When things do change, they matter more.

Michael: It’s certainly interesting that the static characters carry this movie and hell, Peter is almost static because the biggest lesson he learns is just “Oops I messed up, I should confess.” He learns that his happiness can come from a happy relationship and from within. Now I will say that Milton and Lumbergh are more plot devices than characters, as the former solves Peter’s problem by being disgruntled and burning the building to the ground while the latter provides Peter with his unhappiness. This fact is masked by the fact that both men are horrifically entertaining (Lumbergh may be one of the oft-quoted comedy characters of all time), but let’s not pretend that they’re not there solely to further Peter’s journey.

Aaron: Well, I won’t argue with that. My point here is that these characters (or plot devices if you wish to refer to them as such) are incredibly memorable. So are the efficiency experts, Joanna’s co-workers, and Peter’s neighbor. They all stand out and make the world feel a little more vibrant. If this was just the story of Peter’s dissatisfaction with his work and didn’t have all of the side plots with amusing but relatively unimportant characters, I don’t think it would stand out as well as it does.
Pieces of Flare
Michael: It impresses me that this movie takes a visually “boring” setting like the workplace of a tech company and makes its plot points feel big. Unscrewing the top part of your cubicle and pushing it away so you have a view isn’t necessarily a grand gesture in the scheme of life, but in Peter’s world (which we are invited into), it’s a hugely satisfying moment. Watching this guy take charge of his life around so many visually interesting storytelling devices is so great. We get: the destruction of a faulty printer, parking in the boss’s parking spot, and the entire building in a smoldering inferno. These vary in scale but use the visuals of a rather “beige” spectrum is impressive, and I don’t think Mike Judge gets enough credit for making the movie pop from a directorial standpoint, as much of the praise goes to the screenplay.

Aaron: I’d have to agree with that assessment. I thought this movie had quite a few visual arresting moments despite having a mundane setting, which is a credit to good directing and knowing how to compose interesting scenes. Got a scene where characters have to sit at a table and discuss how they hate work? Put them in a restaurant with an obnoxious “pieces of flare” theme. And then you’ve got more material to work with for the rest of the movie. Want to drive home that a character who almost never gets a word in edge-wise is slowly losing his mind? Gradually decrease his work space by cramming as much junk as possible onto the screen so the audience visually understands just how much pressure he’s under. Little bits like this not only help the humor, but make the characters and world feel a little bit richer.

Michael: One of my favorite little moments that enhance the world is the very first time Peter goes to his office and he has a standoff with the doorknob. We then see it’s because it’s going to shock him with static. It’s a brilliant way to show that work is causing him pain every day he goes in. Making a doorknob imposing and interesting is no easy feat, but Judge pulled it off. It’s the little things like this that make Office Space a truly great comedy.

Aaron: The was a movie that I really, really enjoyed and don’t know if there’s anything I would change much of. I was engaged and entertained the entire way through, and I think I will probably catch this again sooner rather than later. With that said, I felt this was more consistently good than consistently great. I went back and forth on where to grade this, but I ultimately feel comfortable having it at this grade.


Michael: You and I had a hard time coming up with discussion points for this one because it’s a movie that speaks for itself, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Everything in this movie just works for me. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely in “classic” territory, and I think my rating reflects that.


Aaron: Interesting. I’ve noticed a lot of our recent movies have been films that really resonated with one of us, and the other thought was “pretty good.”

Michael: We pick them for the other for a reason, but yeah, they’re not all going to be as profound on both of us as Groundhog Day, The Godfather: Part 2, or Alien.

What would you do if you stopped giving a crap?

Next week:

Aaron: Michael, I know you’re a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series (as any fan of Batman should be). But I know you haven’t taken the dive into the broader DC Animated Universe created by Bruce Timm and others. So I’m going to ease you in by showing you Batman’s debut in Superman: The Animated Series, a damn fine show in its own right.
Michael: You’ve been raving about the “World’s Finest” arc for awhile now, so I look forward to seeing what it’s all about. And the timing is perfect because Dawn of Justice is almost upon us.

Is this the definitive DC cartoon universe?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space


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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
This film is funny, smart, and breezes by. There’s not much more you can ask from a comedy, yet somehow Office space gives you amazingly memorable characters, social relevancy, and a fight scene (more like gang beatdown) between three middle-aged men and a printer. I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen this yet, but if you have not, it gets high praise from us. Check it out!