HomeMovies1999 Movie-Versaries: Office Space

1999 Movie-Versaries: Office Space

1999 was a big year for movies. It was the year that The Matrix‘s slow-motion bullet influenced action movies for years to come. It was the year American Beauty won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Oscar fans have been arguing about it ever since. It was the year Pokémon jumped from Gameboys and TV to the big screen. And worst of all, it was the year that disappointed a generation of Star Wars fans with the release of The Phantom Menace.

To celebrate that landmark year in film’s 20th Anniversary, The Pop Break is doing a year-long retrospective of 1999’s most influential (at least to us) films. The series continues with staff writer Matthew Widdis (who already wrote about Varsity Blues) digs into how Office Space came to be and how it became a cult classic.

It is now a well-known story. Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a constant worrywart, feels trapped and suffocated working at Initech until hypnotized by a therapist—who then falls dead of a heart attack. Hilarity ensues as Peter, now free of anxiety, skips out on work, is savagely honest in everything he does, and finally asks out the waitress (played by Jennifer Aniston) that he’s been mooning over. He and his equally frustrated friends, Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Naghee… nag… naganna work here anymore (Ajay Naidu), decide to defraud the company, screw it up, and learn the value of making work what works for them. That’s only part of the story.

Director Mike Judge had established himself with the cultural phenomenon of Beavis and Butt-Head on MTV and King of the Hill on Fox was doing well. It was the perfect time to branch out into live-action. It seems unlikely that he would have foreseen the frustration he would face in the process or the impact the film would create as a cult classic.

Before creating Beavis and Butt-Head in the animated short, “Frog Baseball,” Judge had created a series of shorts about a nebbish and put-upon cubicle drone named “Milton” based on his own stint at a Silicon Valley firm. They were seen on MTV’s Liquid Television and Saturday Night Live. The rights to “Milton” sat with Comedy Central from 1991 until 20th Century Fox contacted him about parlaying them into a movie. The result was 1999’s Office Space.

The creator butted heads (no pun intended) with the studio throughout the process, over the scenes needing “more energy,” the use of gangsta rap (Mafioso have praised the printer beat down scene as “authentic,”) and even Judge’s wishes to reshoot the third act entirely (which never happened). 100-degree weather drained the cast and crew and the studio was ready to accuse Judge of being on drugs to remove him from the film entirely. With a movie poster that Judge hated, a tagline that included “from the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head,” and a cast that consisted of Jennifer Aniston and a dozen of “those guys from those things,” it seemed destined to miss the mark.

And it did. It barely cleared its modest budget at the box office. But, remember that part about Comedy Central? Constant rotation on the cable channel a few years later meant college students, shift workers, homemakers, and the ADD crowd that has to have the TV on at all times got to see the movie scene-by-subtly-hilarious-and-quintessentially-relatable-scene.

Ron Livingston’s cross-generational and malcontent everyman, Peter Gibbons, may be the protagonist, but the star of the film is the dialogue—dialogue that might seem mundane if Office Space hadn’t shone a light on its delightful absurdity. The little grating things that we go through in our daily lives seem hilarious when reflected in the likes of “…a case of the Mondays” or “I’m gonna need you to go ahead and…” Terms such as “pieces of flair,” “TPS reports,” and even “federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison” have entered the common lexicon as much as “circling the drain” or “in the weeds” or “the smart end of the tape.” And don’t you dare tell me that you’ve never been lending or borrowing office supplies and heard anyone muttering, “I believe you have my stapler.”

The stapler in question, a red Swingline, didn’t even exist until the movie came out. The demand became so high that Swingline caved from their usual black or graphite options. TGI Friday’s altered their personnel practices and standard décor to get rid of “flair” and I’ve known relieved servers there who praise the movie for expediting that process. The low-toned, micromanaging, and passive aggressive, Bill Lumburgh (Gary Cole) is the only character to get his own Wikipedia entry and is often used as an example in human resource and sales training as an example for use of “verbal judo” and “what not to do” in terms of motivation and team building. The real life, Grammy-winning “no-talent ass clown” Michael Bolton has repeatedly referenced the movie and even reshot David Herman’s scenes for Funny or Die.

Time has been relatively kind to the crew from Initech. Jennifer Aniston, the biggest name before and since, has a long string of date movies and screwball comedies to make her the most successful of the former Friends. In the time since Office Space, the similarly ageless Ron Livingston has been a consistent and recognizable fixture in film and TV, with credits such as Band of Brothers, Sex and the City, and ABC’s current series, A Million Little Things. The feared consultants, Bob and Bob (John C McGinley and Cheers’ Paul Willson, respectively) have continued to work in film and television with McGinley most notable now for his role of Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs. Indian-American, Ajay Naidu, who spent time with dialect coaches to capture the Jordanian accent for Samir, has been steadily playing small movie parts and guest starring on TV since.

MadTV alum David Herman, Gary Cole, and Stephen Root have, among other things, frequently collaborated with Mike Judge on projects like King of the Hill and Idiocracy, along with numerous credits for voice acting. Speaking of which, Diedrich Bader, who played Peter’s mustachioed neighbor (a man brutally honest about what he’d do with a million dollars) has been seen and/or heard in everything from education films to Napoleon Dynamite to voicing Batman himself.

As for Mike Judge, he has certainly kept busy. So busy in fact that, when approached to adapt a British sit-com about the workplace, he declined. His King of the Hill comrade, Greg Daniels, took the job and ended up giving us The Office and Parks and Recreation. Judge was also turned off by reviews of the British Office that praised it at Office Space’s expense. In addition to passion projects like Extract and Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus, fans can enjoy his return to the workplace with the gang from Pied Piper in HBO’s Silicon Valley.

The 20 year performance review of Office Space shows adequate numbers, covering initial costs and paying dividends in DVD sales and licensing. Results for team building and re-establishing industry standards exceed expectations. Plenty of team members have gone on to become valued assets and even supervisors elsewhere. Real talent for thinking outside the box and shows undeniable consistency over the length of tenure. But, um, we’re gonna need to go ahead and keep watching it for another twenty years, m’kay?



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