Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 28, 2006)
One of the drawbacks related to movie reviewing stems from the permanence of one’s opinions. When I toss out my thoughts about a film, that’s that; if I change my mind at a later time, it doesn’t really matter, for the initial impact remains. Sure, as an on-line reviewer, I can always go back and eradicate the original article, but since many people already read that piece, it won’t alter their memories of my impressions.
While I don’t often radically change my thoughts about films, new opinions do surface at times. Usually these variations veer in the negative direction. On occasion I’ll like something I used to frown upon, but these examples are somewhat rare; after all, if I didn’t care for a movie in the first place, why would I watch it again?
As such, it’s much more common for me to turn against something I once enjoyed. Possibly the oldest personal example of such as case related to the 1980 comedy Nine to Five. I checked out this movie as a kid and thought it seemed very entertaining. As I recall, I still liked it through a second viewing. However, once I took it in a third time, I found the program to seem much more problematic and disenchanting.
Why did this occur? Part of it may relate to excessive exposure to the material, but I think some of it happened due to a maturing eye. As I got older, I was better able to discern the flaws in the piece. As a 13-year-old, the thinness of the movie eluded me, but when I grew some, I saw more clearly just how big a load of tripe it really was.
Nine to Five stands as a very thin feminist fantasy. At the start of the film, we meet Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), a recently-separated woman who has to enter the job market for the first time in years. She possesses few strong skills, but her secretarial abilities are sufficient enough to net such a job. As she enters her new office, she finds how badly the higher-ups dump on the secretaries, and she sees examples of the “glass ceiling” through the experiences of Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), a long-suffering coworker. Though Judy’s new friend clearly has the skills for managerial work, the higher-ups prefer their private club, to which no one without a college degree may enter.
After a while, another woman enters their little club. Buxom Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton) works in a cheerfully oblivious state as the secretary for the obnoxious Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman). He gleefully relates his alleged sexual episodes with Doralee, none of which actually occurred. Her coworkers ostracize her until they learn the truth.
Ultimately, Hart becomes their common enemy, but the three women only take action against him due to a misunderstanding. Violet believes that she accidentally poisoned Hart, and a series of comic mishaps ensue. Eventually they discover that he’s still alive, but he’s learned of his near-death experience. Because Hart threatens harsh repercussions against them, they kidnap him and keep him prisoner while they attempt to prove his involvement in some sleazy dealings.
All the while, they maintain the ruse that he’s still at the office, while they actually run things in his place. Unsurprisingly, efficiency and happiness all escalate while they give the workplace a more homey and warm feel. Will they be able to keep up their dangerous game long enough to enact real changes? No comment, but I doubt the ending will surprise many.
What did surprise me, however, was how dated and sexist Nine to Five appeared. I hadn’t seen the film since I turned against all those years ago, but it hasn’t aged well. While I’m sure that gender-related workplace inequities still exist, the concept seems fairly quaint at this time, and I doubt that a similar story set in the current era would go anywhere.
Still, I suppose I can’t fault the movie too strongly for being a product of its time. What bothered me more was the anti-male manner in which the story was told. Virtually all of the men behaved in fairly unpleasant ways, and none were allowed to develop any form of character. Obviously Hart stood as the poster child for the nasty boys, but we also saw other cads like Judy’s ex. The closest thing to a likable man came from Doralee’s husband, but even he seemed as though he was rather laissez faire and unwilling to challenge the status quo; he just wanted to relax and get it on with those enormous jugs.
The film’s cartoony air required that Hart take on almost impossibly cruel and evil overtones. At no point did he seem recognizable as a human being. Coleman prospered in roles such as this, and he created a reasonably entertaining meanness for Hart, but the part remained so one-dimensional that it lacked much use.
As for our leads, they all performed acceptably well within the constraints of the story. Fonda, seemed somewhat out of place as the meek former housewife, but she brought out some positives at times. Parton wasn’t in the same league as an actress, and her lack of chops showed, but her earthy warmth helped cover some of these flaws. Of the three, Tomlin was most clearly in her own element, which was why Violet offered the most vivid personality of the bunch.
However, I found it hard to really like any of them because the movie tried so hard to make me like them. The lop-sided story forced their case so heavily that it almost began to backfire; I started to turn against the female characters because I tired of the exceptionally positive manner in which they were portrayed. Even their foibles - such as the secretaries’ early condemnation of Doralee - all were really the fault of a man, and this lack of depth truly harmed the film.
All of the man-bashing really got old quickly, and these tendencies reached their nadir during some fantasy sequences. One at a time, we saw the dreams of our three leads as they conjured the ways in which they’d like to get back at Hart. These sequences seemed to be exceptionally - and nauseatingly - cute and pandering, and they added absolutely nothing to the film. Frankly, they appeared tedious and crude.
As a whole, I’d say the same sentiments went for Nine to Five. On a superficial level, the movie might offer a little escapist entertainment. However, I genuinely disliked the film’s tendency to simplify the sexes and make men the root of all evil. The tale lacked any form of depth, and the humor was asinine and drab. I may once have enjoyed Nine to Five, but those days are long gone.