Review: 9 to 5 (1980) *****

What an absolute delight of working class rage. I can’t get over the elegance of the plot, nor how well the wish fulfillment is supported narratively and visually throughout the film. Total classic.

From the beginning, our trio of heroines are characterized by smart costuming. I could never say enough about the self-assured beauty of our Boundaries-Loving Queen Dolly Parton, who knows a beautiful woman is going to Just Have to Deal With Some Crap, but won’t let it make her any less beautiful. Jane Fonda’s expressive professionalism gives us a quick sense of a woman who is pulling herself “in” to try to get along. Lily Tomlin begins wearing the most masculine suits, having long survived in a toxic environment.

The environment itself begins costumed in brutalist gray-blue. Cramped desks allow no individuality. Schedules are micromanaged without concern for the workers’ needs. Mistakes are punished severely with verbal abuse.

And the boss—oh boy, the boss. I hope you’ve never had to deal with a boss as openly misogynistic as this one, but most of us have probably known someone similar who hid it better. My first male boss tried to have me handle the department holiday cards because i had “nice handwriting” (I do not) (my job was computer tech). But this boss has every bad experience you could have, and then some, played to such comic levels that you want all the worst things to happen to him.

Our heroines’ fantasies about various ways to kill and dominate the boss are a laugh riot. Would you expect any different from such enormous talents?

As they scheme against their boss in the most hysterical ways (I too wish I could dangle Some People from my ceiling in BDSM gear when they’re jerks), the trio reform themselves and their workplace. Their joy is expressed in expressive, freeing costuming, while the office itself becomes gowned in warmer colors, an open floor design highlighting accessibility for a worker using a wheelchair, the opportunity to have family-friendly flexible schedules, and even a daycare.

Of course the boss deserves the worst to happen to him, but poetic justice ensures something better than the worst happens: He is praised for turning the department’s productivity around and promoted to a job he doesn’t want in Brazil. Bye!

If only these three characters could take charge of the United States for a few years.

Image credit: 20th Century Fox

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