[box cover]

9 to 5: The Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition

For many Americans, the workplace has become a surrogate living room, with co-workers their ersatz family members. Blame it on longer working hours, the lack of single-income households, or simply some folks' need to achieve — the trend remains undeniable, and can be pinpointed with some accuracy by television. The appliance that people rely on most to soothe their nerves at the end of a long day is also a looking-glass of sorts; for thought-provoking art, we often turn to cinema or novels, but TV most often presents us with the familiar. Home is where the sitcom was, from 1950s chestnuts like "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" to the perennially popular "Happy Days" and ratings powerhouse "The Cosby Show." Such isn't as true today, where the underrated "NewsRadio" is a DVD favorite and "The Office" a hit in both Britain and America. Meanwhile, legions of fluorescent-baked cubicle rats frequently turn to Mike Judge's Office Space for some much-needed Friday-night respite. Do Americans regard themselves as put-upon employees more than they see themselves as parents or siblings or children? If so, we can thank "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" for pioneering the first sophisticated office sitcom, using a single professional woman as its lead character. And long before Office Space became a cult classic, 9 to 5 (1980) took a poke at the "glass ceiling," the workplace whisper that preceded "outsourcing."

9 to 5 would be worth watching for the pot-smoking scene alone. Seeing Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda get giggly and demolish a platter of barbecued ribs is hard to beat — except by the crazy revenge fantasies they come up with for getting back at their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss, Franklin Hart (a delightfully weasely Dabney Coleman). The three women work for Hart at Consolidated, a massive, faceless corporation that fills out entire floors of an office tower with rows of desks extending as far as the eye can see. Tomlin is Violet Newstead, a Consolidated veteran who's been passed up for one too many promotions; Parton is Doralee Rhodes, Hart's buxom blonde personal secretary with a heart of gold; and Fonda is Judy Bernly, a timid divorcée who's never worked a day in her life. Like plenty of office underlings, the three bond through their hatred of their boss; the difference between real life and the movies is that these three actually get a chance to do something about it. When a complicated series of events puts Hart at their mercy — and the control of their department in their hands — the "girls" finally get their chance for revenge and manage to change the office for the better at the same time, proving once and for all that the fairer sex is more than capable of thriving in the world of business.

*          *          *

Most people who were around back then remember that 9 to 5 was a hit — but just how much of a hit often comes as a surprise. Grossing $103 million in 1980, in today's dollars (and ticket-prices) it would come in nearly twice that. It also was the second-highest earner of the year, and only The Empire Strikes Back got more people to line up around the block. Not too shabby for a movie that Jane Fonda cobbled together from a vague idea. At first, she hoped to do a serious picture about women and work, but producer Bruce Gilbert was convinced a comedy would be better. Screenwriter Patricia Resnick conducted interviews with working women, while Fonda recruited her co-stars. Lily Tomlin earned the central role of Violet, even though it was just her fourth feature film, while Dolly Parton had never acted before at all (Fonda contacted her after hearing "Two Doors Down" on the radio). Director Colin Higgins collaborated on the script, and the legendary cast was filled out by one final, crucial member: Dabney Coleman, who didn't so much get the role of his career as earn it. Few characters in American comedy are as instantly memorable as the devious Franklin Hart, and Coleman's stern manner ensured that he never once actually played a line for laughs. Despite being a small comedy, the filmmakers were willing to be ambitious — the "fantasy" revenge sequences still raise a smile, in particular Tomlin's Disneyesque interaction with animated forest animals. And if the props are dated, it hardly matters — IBM Selectrics sit on every desk and the Xerox machine fills an entire room, but it's surprising to note how little has changed at work, rather than how much. And if a comedy can be measured by its quotability, there's plenty of them to dish here, including "M&M's," "I'm a murderess," and "Holy merde," although Dolly Parton got the best line of all: "Well I say we hire a couple of wranglers to go upstairs and beat the shit out of him."

9 to 5 arrives on DVD from Fox for a second time, here in a "Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition," and thankfully the extras make it worth another spin. The pointless stills gallery (of just five pictures) has been dropped, and new is the behind-the-scenes featurette "9 @ 25" with interviews of all principal cast and crew (24 min.), 10 deleted scenes, "Remembering Colin Higgins" (4 min.), a gag reel (5 min.), a karaoke feature, and the original theatrical trailer. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is solid, featuring a very good source-print, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio gets the job done, particularly with Dolly Parton's stuck-in-your-head-all-day title tune. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech/JJB



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page