Sunday 4 September 2016

Movie Review: Nine To Five (1980)

A workplace feminist comedy, Nine To Five features an infectious sense of fun and a trio of terrific leading ladies having a blast.

Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) is entering the workforce after raising a family and being abandoned by her cheating husband Dick (Lawrence Pressman). Judy joins Consolidated Companies as a secretary and makes friends with her supervisor Violet (Lily Tomlin), who has hit a low glass ceiling and is being bypassed for a promotion into management by her insufferable boss Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman). Meanwhile Hart is lusting after his buxom assistant Doralee (Dolly Parton). She repeatedly fends him off, but Hart nevertheless ruins her reputation by spreading rumours that they are having an affair.

Judy, Violet and Doralee finally conclude that Hart is a "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot", and over wine and a joint take turns fantasizing about revenge. But when their dreams of retribution suddenly and unintentionally seem to come true, the ladies first believe that they may have committed murder, then have to deal with a hostage situation while keeping the office functioning.

Financed by Fonda's production company and propelled by Parton's infectious hit title song, Nine To Five has serious fun with an important topic. Directed and co-written by Colin Higgins, the film takes on gender politics at the office with a smile, exposing the hypocrisy of a hostile environment where women are fully dependent upon and completely held back. The film is brisk, full of snappy one-liners and unafraid to speak its mind.

Sexism, harassment, no opportunities for advancement, the lack of flex time, and the absence of a daycare all make their way into the story. But Nine To Five succeeds because it avoids any sense of preachiness, keeping the mood light and allowing the issues to speak for themselves. The revenge theme hints at the boiling rage, and the missed opportunities where women's energies are burned on lamenting lack of fulfillment rather than contributing to corporate achievement.

The three women's fantasy sequence is a turning point from reality-based comedy to something resembling outright farce, and the film's second half is fully invested in a false murder sub-plot, complete with a dead body stuffed into car trunk, followed by a wild and prolonged hostage taking premise. Nine to Five strides into wacky cartoon territory, and does so triumphantly but with some compromise in the focus on the core social message.

Fonda, Tomlin and Parton create an excellent trio. Fonda as Judy is the more serious debutante into the working world, and she provides the fresh eyes into the perverted office environment. Tomlin as Violet is the veteran sufferer, perfecting her frustrated eye-rolling at the abject unfairness of a male-dominated world. Parton, in her film debut, is a revelation, finding the perfect role as the sassy target of out-of-control harassment who fights back but loses the reputational battle anyway.

Dabney Coleman's career highlight as Franklin M. Hart Jr. contributes immeasurably to the film's tone. There is nothing subtle about Hart, he is a first order management boor, and Coleman plays him as a villain worthy of lusty booing and fully deserving of the female blowback finally directed his way. Sterling Hayden makes a late appearance as the firm's chairman of the board, and Elizabeth Wilson adds to the jungle politics in the role of treacherous spy.

Humorous and ridiculous, Nine To Five delivers a prescient message: women will be innovative and successful, whether inside the office or outside it. The men will just have to decide if they are talent partners or targets.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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