Should I Watch..? Nine To Five
What's the big deal?
Nine To Five (sometimes referred to as 9 to 5) is a farcical comedy film released in 1980 and marked the debut acting role of country music superstar Dolly Parton. Directed by co-writer Colin Higgins, the film looks at the office politics surrounding three young women working in an office under the rule of their lying, sexist, hypocritical male boss. The film became a massive hit with audiences, grossing more than ten times its budget in the USA alone. It also spawned a short-lived TV series and a Broadway musical with new songs written by Parton. Nowadays, it's probably more famous for Parton's iconic theme tune which earned both an Academy Award nomination and two Grammys for Parton and as well as topping the charts in the US.
What's it about?
After her husband runs off to conduct an affair with his secretary, Judy Bernly is forced to seek employment at the offices of Consolidated Companies as a secretary herself. While after struggling on her first day, she befriends long-time employee and officer supervisor Violet Newstead who introduces Judy to the principal players in the office - the sleazy manager Franklin Hart and his assistant Roz Keith and Franklin's buxom personal secretary Doralee Rhodes, whom Franklin is rumoured to be sleeping with.
When Doralee discovers that it's Franklin spreading the rumours about them, she storms out of the office along with Judy and Violet who have both had enough of working under Franklin's sexist dictum . After speculating about what sort of revenge they'd like to take on their boss, a misunderstanding over a supposedly poisoned cup of coffee lead the three of them headfirst into a battles of the sexes with Franklin - who quickly finds out that there is more to office politics than gossiping by the photocopier...
Franklin M. Hart, Jr.
Patricia Resnick & Colin Higgins *
Release Date (UK)
27th March, 1981
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Song ("Nine To Five")
What's to like?
To begin with, Nine To Five feels very much like a work-based battle-of-the-sexes movie of the type that Hollywood simply doesn't make any more. But it's so relatable, even for male viewers - the sense of bewilderment during your first day on the job is something all of us have experienced in our lives. I especially loved the banter between Tomlin and Wilson with barely concealed bitchiness lurking under the surface of the exchanges. The supporting cast feel a little stereotypical (and frankly, underused as well) but it all feels like a genuine working environment.
Parton is a natural showstopper (the theme tune is impossible to shift from your mind) and while the role of Doralee isn't much of a stretch for her, she performs just as solidly as her more experienced costars. Credit should also go to Coleman as the scheming schmuck who is clearly out of his depth - his performance turns an unlikeable panto villain into a suitably slimy foil for the trio of typists. The film really picks up during the three fantasy sequences where Parton, Fonda & Tomlin envisage their individual revenge for their boss - these are genuinely brilliant and reminiscent of the style of comedy seen in the likes of TV sitcom Scrubs. I would have liked to see the movie move more in this direction but instead, the wheels start to come off not long after.
- Parton's reclusive husband Carl Dean visited the set while filming was going on. After being spotted by Fonda, who voiced her attraction to him to both Parton and Tomlin, Parton then introduced him to her co-stars - causing some embarrassment for Fonda.
- Parton only accepted the role on the condition that she performs the theme music, something she has insisted ever since. The only film of Parton's career that doesn't use her music as the theme is Steel Magnolias.
- The idea for the film came to Fonda after a friend of hers started an association of office workers in Boston. It was called "Nine To Five".
What's not to like?
The minute the film moved into farce mode, I lost interest and the film lost its credibility. The confusion over the health of their boss which leads to a random body-snatching at the hospital felt weird and totally out of place. Nine To Five works hard to regain its composure and just about manages to do so by the end but the damage had already been done. I never got on board with the kidnapping nonsense either - none of these women should have been capable of such things and yet not only do they accomplish this but also manage to deal with unforeseen consequences as well. What was Violet in another life - a CIA hitman?
Instead of being a daring comedy or a realistic look at life in a dysfunctional office, Nine To Five loses its way and settles for being a surreal and one-sided battle of sexual politics where there was only ever going to be one winner. Granted, times have changed somewhat since the end of the Seventies but it's hard to imagine a boss behaving quite as unprofessionally as Colman's sleaze-ball does without coming a cropper sooner or later. But sadly, sexual inequality still hasn't completely gone away and while Nine To Five might still be relevant to some people, it hasn't dated as well as some of its contemporaries.
Should I watch it?
Nine To Five is an enjoyable enough film dealing with the unpleasant nature of sexism in the workplace in a way quite unlike anything else. The three female leads all deliver and the theme tune is one you'll be singing for days afterwards. I just wished that it had stuck to its guns and pushed the boat out a little further instead of becoming a slightly silly and awkward farce. Nevertheless, the film is one that office workers and secretaries across the world will be instantly familiar with.
Great For: female office workers, Dolly Parton fans, 80's theme nights
Not So Good For: sexist employers, gossipy co-workers
What else should I watch?
Anyone looking for an office-based comedy have some pretty decent options to choose from. From the shoulder-padded glamour of Working Girl to Mike Judge's low-key cult classic Office Space to the low-brow humour and ensemble cast of Horrible Bosses, it would seem as though office work might be more amusing than you might have imagined.
Female-led comedies are slowly starting to become more prevalent with women like Melissa McCarthy seemingly leading the way. Bridesmaids is a film that broke new ground, demonstrating that a film with an all-female cast could go on to become box office gold. Spy brings McCarthy led a female-helmed action comedy to hungry audiences while The Heat sees her team up with Sandra Bullock to create a female-led buddy-cop comedy and for the fabulously well-dressed, there's always Sex And The City although I don't recall seeing McCarthy in that, for some reason.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox