Pop Culture

Office Space Is Mike Judge's Still-Underrated Masterpiece

Gary Cole's Bill Lumbergh is one of many quotable characters from Mike Judge's Office Space, screening at Axelrad on Labor Day.
Gary Cole's Bill Lumbergh is one of many quotable characters from Mike Judge's Office Space, screening at Axelrad on Labor Day. Courtesy of the Downtown District
The terms “underrated” and “overrated” get thrown around far more than they should. For instance, some detractors think J.J. Watt is overrated. While overexposed, Watt for sure isn’t overrated; rather, he's properly rated as the face of the Texans franchise and a future Hall of Famer.

Or consider the obscure or indie band – and God knows there are plenty of those on the summer festival circuit – that gets the fabled “underrated” tab. No, LCD Soundsystem isn’t underrated because they’ve yet to find a wider audience; they’re properly rated because their sound only appeals to that specific audience. Simply put, LCD is a perfectly fine band with a sizeable fanbase; James Murphy and crew are no more underrated than any other band whose fans border on obsessive.

Tempering the use of the overrated/underrated label better allows us to take proper stock of things that are given too much, or not enough, credit. Radiohead is overrated; Thom Yorke could cough into the microphone for 45 minutes and rock critics would call it a stunning, landscape-altering change in direction. Linkin Park, as detailed earlier this week, is underrated, a good band unfairly lumped in with swill of the nu-metal variety.

Which brings us to Office Space, a film that easily ranks among the most underrated films in cinematic history. The film is screening for free at Axelrad on Labor Day evening, just in time for everyone to get back in the mindset of re-entering the cubicle world after a three-day weekend.

Office Space
was released in February 1999. For those unfamiliar with the movie industry, February is a sort of dumping ground for films with limited commercial prospects. And, boy, did Office Space deliver. The film, shot primarily in Austin, debuted with just over $4 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross $12 million globally. That’s certainly not bad against a $10 million budget, but to call Office Space a commercial dud would be fair.

Then came home video. A few years after coming and going in theaters, Office Space ranked among the top-selling comedy DVDs in America. The film, a veritable smorgasbord of quotable lines, gained a foothold in a small pocket of the American consciousness and never really left. And yet, when critics ponder the best comedies of all time, rarely is Office Space considered along the lines of Caddyshack, Animal House or Dumb and Dumber. And this is why Office Space, despite its cult-classic status, is underrated.

It’s doubtful Mike Judge had such ambitions when he wrote Office Space in the late '90s. Judge had risen to fame as the mind behind animated hits like Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill, the former of which also inspired a hit movie written and directed by Judge. Office Space, however, marked Judge’s first foray into live action on the big screen. What at first seemed like a swing and miss ended up being arguably the high point of a very successful career.

Judge not only nails life as a cubicle-dwelling, cog-in-a-wheel office worker, he created memorable characters and popularized a number of lines that live on to this day. There’s Peter Gibbons’ burnt-out software engineer. Gary Cole absolutely nails soulless boss Bill Lumbergh. Bit players like Tom Smykowski, Lawrence the neighbor, Milton, and the unfortunately-named Michael Bolton steal their respective scenes. And Jennifer Aniston has never been more charming as a waitress whose love for Gibbons is matched only by her disdain for flair.

The Geto Boys’ “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta” lives on to this day in part because of its role in Office Space. It’s likely that if you work in an office, someone has jokingly referred to their TPS reports. Hell, red Swingline staplers are now collector’s items in some circles.

And the quotes, dear God, the quotes! Recognize any of the ones below? If you had a VCR any time between 2001 and 2005, it’s likely you do:

“Two chicks at the same time, man.”

“I don’t like my job, and I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.”

“If things go right, I’m gonna be showing her my ‘oh’ face.”

“I believe you have my stapler.”

“It’s not that I’m lazy; it’s that I just don’t care.”

“Did you get that memo?”

“I’m doing the drywall up there at the new McDonald’s.”

There are certainly others, and everyone who considers themselves a fan of Office Space has their favorite. And this is where Office Space doesn’t get its just due. For a comedy to firmly be considered a classic, only three things are really necessary – laughs, memorable characters and quotes aplenty. This is how films like Anchorman and There’s Something About Mary live on to this day.

In this regard, Office Space arguably shines brighter than any other comedy. Whereas a number of comedies – such as those listed above – revel in the silly and nonsensical, Office Space is very much grounded in reality. Mundane jobs, horrible bosses, cookie-cutter apartment homes; who among us can’t relate to that? Office Space is so hilarious, in part, because it’s so damn sad.

Plenty of films elicit laughs, but Office Space delivers them in such a sad, soul-crushing way. Sometimes, we have to laugh to keep from crying. With Office Space, we get to do both.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale