dir: Seth Gordon
Everyone hates their boss, apparently. A flick like this is mining a rich seam of resentment, universal and eternal, that bubbles malevolently under the surface of every working stiff.
And at a time when people in the States either don’t have jobs, or are nervous about job security, a flick, ostensibly a comedy flick with protagonists so trapped by their evil bosses that they contemplate murder, doesn’t seem that outlandish.
It’s probably not that zeitgeist-y, since people have long imagined (or unfortunately, actually) going postal, and cruel petty bosses are a staple of pop culture and literature. It has been for thousands of years, if you believe the Bible. Let’s face it, if you don’t, you’re a godless heathen and I applaud you for your winning ways.
This flick is not a black comedy, despite the premise. It sounds ‘dark’, but it’s not. It’s utterly harmless, and I don’t think that hurts the flick at all. If anything, the fact that it’s so gutless, and that the protagonists are so gutless means that the superficiality allows us to enjoy a bit of fantasy wish-fulfilment without feeling guilty.
Wait, that’s a bad thing, isn’t it? I should be cursing the fuck out of this flick.
But I’m not going to. I actually laughed a fair few times, and didn’t care how silly any of it was, because it was enjoyable.
Three friends each suffer under the reign of terror their bosses embody. Nick (Jason Bateman, playing the same Jason Bateman role he plays in everything) is an obsequious lickspittle who even Smithers would look at with disgust. He licks the boots of a far greater man, being his boss, played by Kevin Spacey. Though thoroughly nasty, the boss Spacey plays here is nowhere near as evil as the one he played in Swimming With Sharks, so this one’s practically a humanitarian by comparison.
Still, the ungrateful fuck Nick still complains and complains about his terrible circumstances to his friends, who have their own problems. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is himself a scumbag, but his coke-head new boss (Colin Farrell, sporting an awesome comb-over), is an even bigger scumbag. He is asked to fire the disabled and the overweight because they disgust the boss, and who is Kurt to argue with managerial prerogative?
Dale (Charlie Day) has a problem that doesn’t seem like that much of a problem. Trapped in a loveless engagement with a kewpie doll, he is constantly being sexually harassed by his dentist boss (Jennifer Aniston). His problem is, he’s being sexually harassed by someone played by Jennifer Aniston, who keeps asking him to fuck her slutty mouth and the like, and no-one else understands, at least at first, what the problem is.
Some viewers might have the same problem empathising with him.
But the rest of us know. It’s wrong to be sexually harassed, especially by a nymphomaniac who threatens to get you jailed or worse if you don’t do to her what she wants.
Just when we, in the audience, start thinking “Why don’t these simpletons just leave their awful jobs?” both their bosses and a separate character delineate just how trapped our protagonists are. The bosses outline how they will destroy their subordinates if they try to leave or complain. The lads meet an old acquaintance at a bar who went to Yale and worked at Lehmann Brothers and has been out of work so long that the only way he can now make ends meet is by giving handjobs at bars.
So, because their bosses are such inherently awful and irredeemable people, and because they can’t leave, they’re ‘forced’ to contemplate the uncontemplatable: killing their Horrible Bosses.
This flick, though it’s a much better flick than the one I’m about to mention, is the product of a certain movie factory. It shares not only scriptwriters but actors and themes of flicks like the repulsive Hall Pass which also came out earlier this year. The essential source o’comedy there as here, apart from some splendidly repugnant scatological shenanigans, is this idea that nice, white, suburban middle class shlubs are so out of touch with modern life, and so out of touch with their ‘urban’ environment that they have no clue where to go or how to pick up prospective sexual partners when granted a week off from monogamy (Hall Pass), nor do they know how to organise a bunch of murders.
For such information, what they require is access to African-Americans. They end up consulting an African-American, all of whom apparently know about murder, and he, being Motherfucker Jones (Jaime Foxx), suggests that, just like the protagonists of Strangers on a Train, they should murder each other’s bosses. That way, without a direct link between victim and perpetrator, the cops will be stymied.
I know, I know, it’s fucking ridiculous, but you’ve probably realised that, unlike Strangers on a Train, this isn’t a thriller or a crime flick. It’s less about the reality of trying to get back at an awful boss, and more about the fantasy of it. It’s meant to be reflecting the current workplace anxieties of middle America, made even more cogent by an economy teetering on the edge of recession, and an unemployment rate of over 9 per cent.
Therefore, everything’s played for laughs, and, at no stage are we meant to believe that these chaps are going to go through with their dastardly plans. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s more laughs to be mined from their accidental cocaine ingestion, or general cluelessness than, presumably, having them go deeply darkly murderous and achieve the current American Dream.
I laughed a fair few times. I laughed a lot. They’re lazy, easy laughs, and there’s practically nothing to take away from the flick or even remember, but they do have a fun time entertaining us, it looked like. It also helps, in a strange way, that the actors assaying the horrible boss roles are acted in a far bigger and grander manner, especially Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston (since Farrell’s screen time is pretty limited), than our protagonists, who are fairly bland characters. Aniston especially decides that she’s quite capable of playing the strumpet as need be. Hollywood, she’s ready to work.
Of them, Charlie Day is the least likeable one, perpetually screaming in a high pitched voice that would make a drag queen cringe in fear. Bateman can and does roles like this in his sleep, and I can barely stand Jason Sudeikis, who’s the exact same pervert and shmendrick that he is in Hall Pass, though he manages to be slightly less repugnant here.
It’s pointless trying to derive any deeper meaning out of a flick like this, but it does divert the attention agreeably for about 90 minutes.
Although, I will admit, there are parts of the flick that were depressing because they reminded me of some of my own previous horrible bosses. Like Aniston’s character’s good graces and clutches, Enter at Own Risk
6 times I felt sorry for Iowan Gruffud being reduced to such a piss-weak role out of 10
“Are you kidding me? I've driven all this way and nobody wants to get pissed on?” – how disappointing for you – Horrible Bosses