Happy almost Labor Day weekend, everybody! Here’s to celebrating work by taking a day off! And when you’re done grilling burgers and drinking too much and getting inappropriately handsy with a neighbor, there’s nothing like settling in for an evening’s entertainment — perhaps with a holiday-appropriate “workplace” movie. We’ve taken a look at a few of our favorite employment-based pictures, and given some thought to which cinematic protagonists we might like to share our quarters with. Check them out after the jump, and add your own in the comments.
Peter Gibbons, Office Space
Any rumination on workplace cinema must begin, of course, with Mike Judge’s 1999 workplace comedy, and with Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), our refreshingly devil-may-care hero. Of course, Peter’s easy-breezy manner is the result of an occupational hypnotherapy session gone awry, but never mind the cause; Peter comes and goes as he pleases, is openly critical of upper management, favors a nice long lunch at Chotchkie’s, and gleefully parks in the spot reserved for insufferable Bill Lumbergh (Mitt Romney Gary Cole). All in all, sounds like a guy we’d love to have in the next cubicle.
Randal Graves, Clerks
Let’s be clear here: we are talking about Randal (Jeff Anderson), and not (we repeat, not) Dante — who is a whiny, unbearable carper, constantly complaining about his love life and screeching, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” We would not care to work with Dante. However, we’d very much like to work with neighboring video store clerk Randal, who has a charmingly combative attitude about customer service. “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers,” he muses, and over the course of the film, he frequently abandons his post, is verbally abusive to his customers, and even goes so far as to spit water on one gent who won’t shut up about tabloid headlines. Sure, the guy who works with him is frequently stuck covering for him, but hey, at least he’d keep things interesting.
Judy, Violet, and Doralee, 9 to 5
Well, if you’re going to have to work for a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” you might as well have Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton in the trenches with you: they’re tough, they’re funny, they’re not against occasionally enjoying some “really good pot,” and when their sleazeball boss pushes them too far, well, they push right back. C’mon, who among us hasn’t had a boss who deserved a good kidnapping?
“A Factory Worker”, Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin’s final silent movie is one of the all-time great workplace comedies, a trenchant social satire with some terrific slapstick bits, many of them set in the giant, anonymous factory where Chaplin’s unnamed character labors. He might not necessarily be the guy you’d want to work directly next to on the assembly line — his work is a touch, um, erratic, and there is that famous scene where he’s sucked all the way into the machinery, an event which surely causes some inconvenience for his co-workers. But every office/factory/workplace needs at least one loose cannon to keep things interesting, right?
The Channel 4 Action News Team, Anchorman
Okay, so maybe Ron Burgundy and his “Action News Team” (Brian Fantana, “Champ” Kind, and Brick Tamland) aren’t the most progressive fellows. But every workplace needs a bit of camaraderie, and these guys certainly have that (“We are laughing and we are very good friends. Good buddies sharing a special moment…”). And, of course, you want to work with people who have got your back — as the Channel 4 Action News Team does in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, a good old fashioned street rumble with their television competitors. Careful with that hand grenade, Brick.
Roger Murtaugh, Lethal Weapon
Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), the family man and partner in four Lethal Weapon movies, is pretty much an ideal workplace buddy: he’s infinitely patient and fiercely loyal to his unstable partner Riggs (in the second film, he assists Riggs in avenging his wife’s death), eventually all but making Riggs a member of his own family. That’s a guy you can trust on a dangerous job, although you might get tired of hearing how he’s getting too old for this shit.
Cheryl, The Good Girl
We can imagine few places on this earth more depressing than the Texas discount store Retail Rodeo, the setting of Miguel Arteta and Mike White’s 2002 comedy/drama. But it might be a little better if we were working with Cheryl, played in the film by Zooey Deschanel. Two reasons: first of all, she’d look like Zooey Deschanel, and secondly, we could while away our shifts listening to her charmingly obscene PA announcements.
Aaron Altman, Broadcast News
Every workplace needs someone who’s mean to the dumb people, and that’s the function adroitly served by network news reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) in James L. Brooks’s smart and uproariously funny 1987 comedy/drama. His target is Tom Granick (William Hurt), the handsome dullard who is new to the Washington newsroom and is clearly being groomed to eventually take over the anchor chair. “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Granick asks Altman, earnestly. “Keep it to yourself,” Altman advises him. When Granick keeps putting himself on camera in his own stories, Altman wryly notes, loud enough for all to hear, “Let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.” Is he a jerk? Sure. But he’s the right jerk for that situation.
Nigel, The Devil Wears Prada
Runway magazine art director Nigel (Stanley Tucci) is, initially, a nightmare for our poor heroine Andy (Anne Hathaway) — cutting, mean, and devastatingly critical about her look and style. But he ultimately becomes just about the only person she can trust at the magazine, and when the time comes for her ugly duckling to become a swan, he gives her the keys to his kingdom. Some fans of the book complained that the film de-sexualized this gay character, and while that’s a legitimate criticism, Nigel remains one of the few genuinely likable people in an utterly cutthroat office.
Hildy Johnson, His Girl Friday
Hildy (Rosalind Russell) is the best reporter on the staff of The Morning Post, so maybe it wouldn’t be so great to share a newsroom with her — she’d get all the good bylines. Still, we’d love to be work buddies with Hildy, who is not only singularly well-equipped to take down her editor (he happens to be her ex-husband), but she simply can’t resist the pull of a good story, putting her own wedding on hold to get an exclusive interview with a death row inmate headed for the gallows. She writes fast, she talks faster, she’s got the boss’s number, and she dresses like a dream. What’s not to love?
Those are our picks—what about yours? Which cinematic characters would you like to share a water cooler with?