Bob Dylan sang “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.” But Johnny Paycheck said it best for all people with evil employers when he snarled, “Take this job and shove it.”
This weekend, a new movie takes hatred for bad bosses to a new level. The guys in Horrible Bosses, a new comedy starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, hate their supervisors, and try to solve their employment problems…permanently.
Not all movie bosses are in such danger. Often movie characters find more creative ways to get even with their bosses.
Remember Office Space’s Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)? He hated his nitpicking boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), so much he created a computer virus to steal money from the company. Too bad he got the decimal point wrong.
Gibbons didn’t go to prison for his revenge scheme but another agitated employee did. In Wall Street, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) allows his boss, Mr. Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko, to lead him down a moral and professional rabbit hole.
His revenge was simple: He recorded Gekko’s admission of guilt. Trouble was, to do so he had to implicate himself.
Going to jail was too good for Guy’s (Frank Whaley) boss in Swimming with Sharks. The up and coming writer thought he had it made when he got a job as the assistant to hot shot producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) but soon found out that being low on the food chain in Hollywood means putting up with a constant stream of abuse and humiliation.
Instead of quitting he does what any slightly psychotic Tinsel Town wannabe would do: he breaks into Buddy’s house, kidnaps him and tortures him. In a twist, the extreme behaviour earns Buddy’s respect and Guy gets a promotion.
Usually in the movies, it’s men who are the bad bosses but there are two glaring examples of distaff evil employers. In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep was Miranda, a boss who redefines the word demanding.
She’s bad, but the worst female boss ever is Working Girl’s Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Miranda was belittling and arrogant, but at least she was upfront about it. Parker, on the other hand, is two faced, passing off her trusted secretary Tess McGill’s (Melanie Griffith) ideas as her own. In the end, Tess teaches her a lesson about honesty…and gets her fired.
Next to Johnny “Take This Job and Shove It” Paycheck, director Mike Judge may be the closest thing we have to a patron saint of crappy jobs.
His 1999 movie Office Space — about company workers who rebel against their miserly boss — was recently ranked number one in a poll of best workplace comedies ever, and this weekend his film Extract details life inside a factory.
He’s the man who made wearing “37 piece of flair” on a restaurant uniform synonymous with the worst of minimum wage life. For anyone who’s ever had a job they hated — and who hasn’t? — Mike Judge is the go-to movie guy.
When he put the words “I don’t like my job, and I do’’t think I’m gonna go anymore,” into Ron Livingston’s mouth in Office Space, he was voicing a thought that has raced through all our minds at least once.
The only cinematic workplace worse than the ones Judge has conjured up has to be the real estate office in Glengarry Glen Ross. The story is simple. It shows two days in the lives of four salesmen, two of whom will be fired by week’s end if their sales aren’t high enough.
Fighting for their lives the four main salesmen — Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin — redefine ruthlessness. Long John Silver wasn’t as cutthroat as these guys and the language they use would give any HR department a collective coronary. The vernacular was so rough during production the actors referred to the film as Death of a F*&@in’ Salesman.
A bit more genteel, language wise at least, is 1980’s Nine to Five. In our era of flexi-time hours the name is a bit of an anachronism, but 8:15 to 4:30 just doesn’t have the same ring. This story of sexual harassment, the glass ceiling that faced working women and a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss spawned not only a hit single, but also a television show and a hit Broadway show.
Hollywood’s use of the workplace as a setting is a no brainer; there’s interaction between diverse characters, which means plenty of conflict and it’s something we can all relate to.
Everyone at one time or another has had a job they hated, but perhaps the real reason we watch these movies and others like Clerks and Modern Times is that no matter what your job, someone, on film at least, has it worse than you.