While researching for the Gunmen post a couple of weeks back, I found it reassuring that when asked if being known mostly for Highlander bothered him, Christopher Lambert said that in some ways it’s good to have at least one thing for which you could really be immortal. To many women, Ron Livingston may always be Berger, the Post-It guy thanks to Sex and the City, but for the majority of us he will be forever remembered as the disgruntled Initech programmer Peter Gibbons. Today, on his forty-fifth birthday, the vault salutes Ron Livingston and his role as the desk jockey’s hero.
Every single day that you see Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), that’s the worst day of his life. It’s because as a programmer at Initech, every day he is subjected to the annoying quirks of his cubicle neighbors and reminded by eight different bosses of the importance of doing his TPS reports correctly. He’s not alone, his buddies Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman) suffer right along side him. To squelch his malaise, Peter sees a hypnotherapist and the session overhauls his outlook. Meanwhile, his boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), hires a pair of consultants to streamline inefficient procedures, a.k.a. downsize, the company. With his friends’ jobs up on the chopping block, Peter devises a plan to set the three of them up with a healthy severance.
Written and directed by Mike Judge, Office Space is an elaboration of his animated shorts series Milton. Here Milton (Stephen Root) is a peripheral character who works in a cube adjoining Peter’s. Milton’s subplot, much like the series, involves him being repeatedly ignored and subjugated by coworkers and management and Root’s reactions to the constant disregard is priceless. Office Space remains so resoundingly hilarious due to its peripheral characters. Peter’s blue collar neighbor, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader), has only a handful of scenes, but I could recite every silly word by heart. Cole’s monotone Lumberg is unforgettable and John C. McGinley is a hoot as consultant Bob Slydell . Veteran character actor Richard Riehle plays Tom Smykowski, Peter’s lucky coworker and provides a nice contrast to Peter’s frustration. Jennifer Aniston has a flair for the role of Peter’s love interest, the Chotchkie’s waitress Joanna.
Though I’ve never worked as a code monkey in a cube farm like the one depicted in Office Space, Judge captures the drudgery of working-for-a-living perfectly. The aggravation of rush hour traffic, the static shock of doorknobs, the constantly malfunctioning, piece-of-shit printers, and the maddening repetitiveness of office life resonates with audiences. Judge deserves an attaboy for his attention to these and even smaller details. I love that the ineffectual Lumberg and Slydell wear both suspenders and a belt, echoing the needless redundancy of their corporate structure and that Lawrence carries a bottle opener to reinforce the simple rules he lives by.
The only thing that hurts Office Space is the now-dated technology. The 3-1/2″ floppies, the pixelated hourglass, the huge monitors do create a disconnect and I sometimes wonder if there shouldn’t be a standing order to remake Office Space once a decade just to keep the tech fresh. Then I think about the “Jump to Conclusions” mat, the Lumberg nightmare, the printer punishment, and the surprisingly fitting gangsta rap soundtrack. Deep down I know recreating that would be like trying to catch lightning in a bottle or like Milton getting a margarita with NO salt on the glass.