Office Space vs. Falling Down

Since I started working, every single day has been worse than the day before, so that every day you see me is the worst day of my life.”

The “job from Hell” movie genre isn’t new. A few years ago, an independent unreleased film called Swimming with Sharks was perhaps one of the best for combining sharp cynical humor with meaningful drama. It also boasted Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley, two of the best character actors in the biz. Spacey plays the “boss from Hell” who all but drives his office assistant (Whaley) crazy. In a remote way, it’s very reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket.

Office Space and Falling Down are another two recent movies that take a look at corporate America and all the pitfalls thereof. There’s some striking similarities:

Similarities

  • Product of two unlikely men in Hollywood.
  • Main character is an engineer.
  • This character has an epiphany / psychosis.

Summary

Office Space (February 19, 1999)

Release Date: February 19, 1999
Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu
Genres: Comedy
Runtime: 89 min
Original Title: Office Space
Original Film Language: English
Production Companies: Cubicle Inc., 20th Century Fox
Three office workers strike back at their evil employers by hatching a hapless attempt to embezzle money.

Cast Office Space

  • Ron Livingston
  • Role: Peter Gibbons
  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Role: Joanna
  • David Herman
  • Role: Michael Bolton
  • Ajay Naidu
  • Role: Samir Nagheenanajar
  • Diedrich Bader
  • Role: Lawrence
  • Stephen Root
  • Role: Milton Waddams
  • Gary Cole
  • Role: Bill Lumbergh
  • Richard Riehle
  • Role: Tom Smykowski
  • Alexandra Wentworth
  • Role: Anne
  • Joe Bays
  • Role: Dom Portwood
  • John C. McGinley
  • Role: Bob Slydell
  • Paul Willson
  • Role: Bob Porter
  • Kinna McInroe
  • Role: Nina
  • Todd Duffey
  • Role: Brian
  • Greg Pitts
  • Role: Drew
  • Michael McShane
  • Role: Dr. Swanson
  • Linda Wakeman
  • Role: Laura Smykowski
  • Jennifer Jane Emerson
  • Role: Female Temp
  • Kyle Scott Jackson
  • Role: Rob Newhouse
  • Orlando Jones
  • Role: Steve - Magazine Salesman
  • Barbara George-Reiss
  • Role: Peggy - Lumbergh's Secretary
  • Tom Schuster
  • Role: Construction Foreman
  • Rupert Reyes
  • Role: Mexican Waiter
  • Jackie Belvin
  • Role: Swanson's Patient #1
  • Gabriel Folse
  • Role: Swanson's Patient #2
  • Jesse De Luna
  • Role: Cop at Fire
  • Mike Judge
  • Role: Stan - Chotchkie's Manager
  • Justin Possenti
  • Role: Spectator
  • Jack Betts
  • Role: Judge
  • Charissa Allen
  • Role: Jogger (uncredited)
  • Josh Bond
  • Role: Initech Security Guard (uncredited)

Trailer Office Space

Office was written and directed by Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butthead”, the shrine to adolescent slacker humor sponsored by none other than MTV. Its meager contributions to quality programming aside, there’s something about the mind of Judge that mustn’t be overlooked. He seems to have an uncanny insight for the tastes and plight of the average audience. Judge also plugged into rural Texas suburban humor with his second animated series “King of the Hill”. Now he’s furthered his sympathy for the common man to the big screen.

Summary

Falling Down (February 26, 1993)

Release Date: February 26, 1993
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin
Genres: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 113 min
Original Title: Falling Down
Original Film Language: English
Production Companies: Regency Enterprises, Alcor Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, Canal+
On the day of his daughter's birthday, William "D-Fens" Foster is trying to get to the home of his estranged ex-wife to see his daughter. His car breaks down, so he leaves his car in a traffic jam in Los Angeles and decides to walk. He goes to a convenience store and tries to get some change for a phone call, but the Korean owner does not oblige, tipping Foster over the edge. The unstable Foster, so frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.

Cast Falling Down

  • Michael Douglas
  • Role: William 'D-Fens' Foster
  • Robert Duvall
  • Role: Detective Prendergast
  • Barbara Hershey
  • Role: Elizabeth 'Beth' Travino
  • Rachel Ticotin
  • Role: Sandra
  • Frederic Forrest
  • Role: Nick, the Nazi Surplus Store Owner
  • Tuesday Weld
  • Role: Amanda Prendergast
  • Raymond J. Barry
  • Role: Captain Yardley
  • John Diehl
  • Role: Dad at Back Yard
  • D.W. Moffett
  • Role: Detective Lydecker
  • Richard Montoya
  • Role: Detective Sanchez
  • Steve Park
  • Role: Detective Brian
  • Kimberly Scott
  • Role: Detective Jones
  • Lois Smith
  • Role: Mrs. Foster / William's Mother
  • Joey Hope Singer
  • Role: Adele Foster-Travino
  • Ebbe Roe Smith
  • Role: Guy on Freeway
  • Michael Paul Chan
  • Role: Mr. Lee
  • Karina Arroyave
  • Role: Angie
  • Dedee Pfeiffer
  • Role: Sheila at Whammyburger
  • Vondie Curtis-Hall
  • Role: Not Economically Viable Man

Trailer Falling Down

Likewise, Falling was directed by the infamous Joel Shumacher, the same guy who single-handedly ruined the Batman Series with his blazingly worthless presentation of Batman & Robin. However, he directed Falling four years prior. He quickly thereafter began honing his knack for taking on scripts that matched his directing style: gross over-the-top antics. Two of which included John Grisham pulp (The Client and A Time to Kill) and a another dark spiral by Andrew Kevin Walker (8MM), the writer of Se7en.

In Office, Mr. Judge has tapped into the angst of all the post-Gen Xers that have gone establishment. Peter Gibbons, played by Ron Livingston from Swingers fame, is a hum-drum software engineer. He and friends in captivity, Samir and Michael Bolten (no, he’s no relation), are beating out fairly meaningless lives for Initech, a big corporate software firm that seems to have more managers than real working employees. Sound familiar? Well it did for most of the people in my theater too.

Worried about his listlessness, Peter’s girlfriend forces him to attend “occupational hypnotic therapy.” Suffice it to say that this was Judge’s sly jab at pop-psychology cure-alls. At some point during his session, Peter awakens from his slave-to-the-system lethargy. Realizing he doesn’t really want to be a willful prisoner, he does his best to get fired by showing up really late, abandoning company dress code, and radical remodeling of his cubicle.

Falling‘s main character is also an engineer. Played masterfully by Michael Douglas, William Foster is a hardworking defense engineer. He too is a cog in the capitalist machine, and it’s beginning to wear on him and his marriage. In a scene almost identical to one in Office, Foster is trying to get to work on a packed freeway with traffic at a standstill. What we now commonly know as “road rage” gets the better of him. Poor Foster snaps at the injustice of it all and sets out to change things one insolent incident at a time.

Differences

  • Light comedy versus the dark comedy.
  • The demise of the main character.

The big differences between these two fun movies is the mood. Office is a very light comedy on the highs and lows of corporate ladders everywhere, while Falling is a black comedy that turns ugly in the search for meaning and rationale in the oft unjust world of the working-class joe.

Where Office really succeeds is its startling accuracy of the inner workings of modern workplaces. Like so many Dilbert cartoons, the situations that Peter and his friends find themselves are utterly trivial. From the beginning of the movie, he is heckled by nearly a half dozen managers for not using some special cover letter on a report. In an almost tragic subplot, Peter’s colleague Milton is systematically driven to arsonist insanity when his cubicle and meager belongings (a prized stapler) are relocated more times than he can handle.

More than it may sound, all of this actually makes hysterical comedy. The audience laughs not necessarily because it’s funny in and of itself, but because they relate so eerily. The people in my theater at many points burst into riotous laughter and applause.

On his quest for mediocrity, Peter becomes a hero of sorts, defying the shackles of a demeaning and draining company. First on their revenge list, Peter and his fellow prisoners abduct the uncooperative company printer and take it to a nearby vacant lot to demolish with baseball bats, as if straight from a Scorsese mobster flick. The trio then plot to steal funds from the company with a computer virus, summoning scenes with a distinctly Tarantino slow-mo look. Finally, with the only satisfying resolution possible, Judge gives the audience what they want. Initech goes up in flames.

Glorious.

Starkly darker in its method, Falling demonstrates very similar issues with different outcomes. Foster has become the victim of corporate downsizing, learning that he is “no longer economically viable.” Despite loyal service to the system for years (at the expense of his family), it has turned on him leaving him desolate.

Foster’s pilgrimage through the city leads us on a discovery of all that is senseless and irrational. He tries to buy a coke at a convenience store, but doesn’t have the 85 cents. He offers to pay only what it’s probably worth, and inadvertently holds the clerk up. Venting his frustration on several food displays, he nevertheless pays 50 cents for the coke.

He then tries to order breakfast at 10:56 a.m. at a fast food burger joint. They of course refuse his order, insisting that they are now only serving lunch, regardless of the many heat-lamped breakfast sandwiches on the racks.

Then we move on to the luxurious country club golf course. Foster meets up with very irate old crotcheties who don’t take kindly to transients walking through their fairway. To shoe him off the grounds, they play target practice with him. Foster returns the favor.

Foster sees all this erosion of common decency as a direct attack on the social infrastructure of which he so struggled to be a part. Falling doesn’t end well, certainly not like Office does. In that sense, it’s more true to life. Can’t win ’em all, Foster.

So, if you’ve ever had a job or boss you hated, you’ll probably laugh out loud at Office Space. For everybody’s sake, let’s just hope your vexation doesn’t turn out like Falling Down‘s Foster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.