I could have gone in a lot of different and rather obvious directions for the last entry in this series of clips from work-related movies, “Office Space” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” being but two of the more obvious possibilities. However, when it comes to productions that really capture the feeling of struggling to get a job in the real world, and then keeping it and balancing it with other commitments, Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively modest “Erin Brockovich” is one of the very few that really seems to get it.
I would have edited this series of clips a lot differently, but it does give a feeling for the movie. (If you remember “Erin Brockovich” at all you’ll know this is NSFW. Actually, if you put up a camera in most offices and then ran it on YouTube, it would probably be NSFW.)
For those of us who enjoy contemplating the historical and political currents that run through film history, it’s tempting to look at the latest comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents,” “Recount”) as a possible reflection of American discomfort at the brutal nature of business and the growing disparities between the wealthy and the increasingly lumpen middle-class. However, when you’re talking about a movie that ends with a confrontation between a good idiot (Steve Carell) who designs amazing dioramas using dead mice and an evil idiot (Zach Galifianakis) with the power of mind control, but only over other idiots, that may be taking things a little seriously.
Opening this Friday, “Dinner for Schmucks” borrows its premise and some of its plot from Frances Veber’s 1998 “The Dinner Game.” Paul Rudd co-stars as Barry, a rising L.A. executive who finds that entering his company’s upper echelon will mean participating in a competitive Dinner for Winners. All the guests are to bring an extraordinary person who has been unrecognized by society — in other words, a dithering idiot. The winner of the nasty game is the one whose guest is the most amusingly stupid.
Barry is initially appalled by the idea and assures Julie (Stephanie Szostak), his horrified art curator girlfriend, he’ll have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he needs to pay for his Porsche and his absurdly large apartment at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel (in real life, you’d need a billionaire’s wealth to afford that). It’s a choice between being nice and being unemployed and in debt. Then the fates seem to reward him when, driving through a quainted-up version of Westwood Village, he nearly runs over Tim Wagner (Carell), a clueless IRS employee and ultra-naive artist committed to his “mousterpieces.” Wagner, of course, turns out to be a goodhearted type whose attempts to help his new friend backfire in increasingly absurd ways. Fortunately, most of them are funny, particularly thanks to some outstanding and often completely unhinged supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as an absurdly pretentious and untalented, but hugely successful, artist on the make for Barry’s increasingly angry girlfriend and all other attractive women on the planet.
“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t going to electrify cinephiles or become a staple of screenwriting seminars, but a couple of weeks back it had proven itself to be a very effective laugh-getting machine at a West L.A. screening. Therefore, full of a free breakfast, a selection of journos were in a pretty good mood for a morning press conference at the Beverly Hilton with a number of funny and/or talented people, including stars Carell and Rudd, supporting bad guys Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek“) and Ron Livingston (“Office Space“) as well as director Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman, who are about to become directors themselves with the film version of the BBC comedy, “Cruise of the Gods.”
Sorry, I couldn’t not use the image above, since it graphically demonstrates what happens when the studios release a trio of unexciting-to-detested entries into a Labor Day market full of strong, and strongly violent, competition. It starts with this week’s b.o. winner. It might not be anything resembling a critical darling, but “The Final Destination” boasts the power of gimmicky horror added to the additional gimmick of 3-D, offering some pretty easy to sell ghoulish fun to audiences, who bought it to tune of an estimated $15.4 million over the long weekend.
And this year’s cinephile sensation is also a hit with audiences. “Inglourious Basterds” held beautifully in its third weekend and only came in a few points below its “Final” competition with an estimated $15.1 million. Word of mouth, or tweet, or whatever is obviously working in the long-awaited WWII-flick’s favor — as may be the fact that every film geek in the world is probably going to see it at least twice, if not thrice.
Variety‘s Pamela McClintock also reports that “Basterds” actually won the day on Sunday. She also mentions that with a domestic “cume” of $95.2 million, the wartime fantasia is now Tarantino’s second biggest earner after “Pulp Fiction,” which made just below $108 million back in 1994. Adjusted for inflation, that number may still be hard — though not impossible — to beat. Not adjusted for inflation is looking easier all the time to me. When you consider the near absolute certainty of at least two or three Oscar nominations (quite possibly several more at this point), I’m not sure when this thing stops earning signficant money. Also, THR reports “Basterds” topping the international charts in a slow overseas weekend.
Since this weekend sees the release of “Extract,” the new movie from Mike Judge, it seems like a couple of clips from his bomb-turned-DVD smash, “Office Space” may be especially appropriate as we honor America’s workforce.
Oddly enough, this first scene contains some language that makes it possibly NSFW. Ironic, especially since is seems almost everyone talks this way at work these days. And, as in this case, they often have good reason. This scene brings back memories.
Behold the genius of Gary Cole and Stephen Root.
See you tomorrow. (Yeah, I’ll be working tomorrow. The boss came up to me and said, “Bob, tomorrow is Labor Day and everything, but I’m gonna need you to blog in your pajamas again, if that’s okay. Yeah…”)