This weekend's broad new studio comedy "The Internship" (our review) concerns a couple of schlubs (former wedding crashers Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) who, finding themselves out of work and hopelessly outdated when it comes to modern technology, apply to become interns at Google. While there, the movie becomes something of a workplace comedy – one in which all of their coworkers are way younger, cuter, and more brilliant.
It's the latest in a long tradition of movies that take our daily jobs and make comedic mincemeat out of them. Everything from wage slave drudgery to gigs in expensive offices in glass skyscrapers, few occupations have gone untouched by the movies. It was enough to get us thinking about some of our favorite workplace comedies, ones where you can practically smell the freshly cooling ink, taste the stale coffee and shake your head in recognition of the woes the characters face in those films. What made our list? Read on to find out, or wait for the TPS report....
There have been a number of adaptations or riffs on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's play of the same name (including another one of our favorite workplace comedies, "His Girl Friday"), and while "His Girl Friday" is easily the most beloved adaptation, it's also a fairly loose one. As far as the more straight adaptations go though, it's hard to beat the 1974 Billy Wilder version, which reunited odd couple Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and maintained the original play's period setting (the play was produced in 1928, the movie is set in 1929). The witty back-and-forth is terrific, the script (co-written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) pops, and Wilder, working with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, gives the movie a nice sense of scope, cramming in period detail while never letting the movie's zippy pacing fall slack. While Wilder, who is normally quite opposed to remakes, would later claim that he wasn't particularly proud of "The Front Page," it's still a great workplace comedy, showing the rather loose morals and ethical standings of people in the newspaper game back then, and even if it is often cartoonishly over-the-top, it maintains a level of emotional realism that you can easily hold onto, even without the romantic subplot invented for "His Girl Friday."
Arguably one of the single best workplace comedies ever, Mike Nichols' adorably fizzy "Working Girl" is centered around a scrappy young woman from Staten Island (Melanie Griffith) who works as a secretary in a Wall Street investment bank. When her boss (Sigourney Weaver) breaks her leg and is out of the office, Griffith hatches a scheme to install herself in Weaver's position and secure a merger deal of her own invention. Oh and she also falls in love with Weaver's boyfriend, played by Harrison Ford. Energetically directed by Mike Nichols, with a score by Carly Simon ("Let the River Run," which starts out the movie in an amazing sequence that follows the Staten Island Ferry as it makes its way to Manhattan, would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song). The movie is inspirational in a way that never feels sappy or saccharine and the cast is uniformly excellent (Weaver, Griffith and Joan Cusack, who plays Giffith's best friend and partner in crime, sporting some truly incredible hair, were all nominated for Oscars). It's the lighter side of something like "Wall Street" and when Griffith, looking to die for, coos, in a mixture of sexuality and sweetness, "I have a head for business and a bod for sin," you can't help but fall in love. Or at least offer her the executive suite.
For a certain generation, "Clerks" was it. If you want to know what it was like having a dead-end job in the early nineties, look no further. Largely consisting of a convenience store clerk (Brian O'Halloran) and a video store jockey (Jeff Anderson) bull-shitting about everything under-the-sun in lo-fi black-and-white, "Clerks" was the "Gimme Shelter" of Generation X: a totemic statement about the bored, disaffected youth in plaid shirts and backwards baseball caps whose lives are strictly catalogued according to the number of women they've slept with and how many "Star Wars" references they can make in a single conversation. But at the same time it's more universal than that – if you've ever worked any kind of middling service industry or retail job, then there's something to connect with in the slacker protagonists. "Clerks" announced the debut of an original voice in independent film, writer/director Kevin Smith, and while he might not have lived up to that initial promise, "Clerks" is the kind of cult classic that will be watched for decades to come, long after video stores and convenience stores have gone the way of the dodo. It's telling too that Smith plans to close out his career as a filmmaker with "Clerks III," thus ending the trilogy and concluding a franchise that would go on to include a wonderful (if frustratingly short-lived) animated series, sequel, and ongoing comic book. In a way, "Clerks" has become the convenience store that Smith probably should have left a long time ago but just can't seem to quit.