Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.
Release Date: December 19th, 1980 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Colin Higgins Actors: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, Sterling Hayden, Elizabeth Wilson, Marian Mercer
t Consolidated Companies, Incorporated, senior supervisor Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is tasked with training new employee (and newly divorced woman) Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), who has never had a real job before, having previously been a housewife. From the bustle of the city to finding a parking spot to meeting a wealth of disparate coworkers, Judy is a bit overwhelmed. And it doesn’t help that administrative assistant Roz Keith (Elizabeth Wilson) is coldly impersonal and that boss Franklin M. Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman) starts with a speech about teamwork before segueing into blatantly sexual commentary and inappropriate requests.
“Everybody’s been very nice, thank you.” When Hart’s secretary Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton, who wrote and performed the title tune, but certainly isn’t the most convincing cast member) arrives, his unseemly behavior escalates, ranging from creating scenarios to peer down her blouse, to giving gifts, to outright groping the busty blonde. Fortunately, Doralee isn’t one to be coerced by the lesser sex, handily maneuvering her way out of his grasp, just as Mrs. Hart (Marian Mercer) walks in, completely oblivious to the overt shenanigans. Shortly thereafter, Judy deals with a mishap with a printer, resulting in a harsh reprimanding from Hart, which leaves her on the verge of tears. It’s a difficult first day, culminating with an awkward confrontation with her ex-husband, Dick (Lawrence Pressman), who left her for his own secretary.
Clearly, the nine-to-five lifestyle will require some major acculturation. And it isn’t just for the newcomer. Violet struggles to be taken seriously, especially for an upcoming promotion opportunity; Doralee is ostracized due to rumors about sleeping with the boss, even though they’re untrue; and virtually all of the women contend with continual sexism and a lack of respect. “Fire the bitch!” Quite amusingly, however, the three central figures aren’t about to remain doormats for a creep of a boss and an uncaring company; with a decent bit of leverage, they begin their revolt with a trip to the bar, midday, followed by a marijuana joint, a giggly gathering, and some plotting for long-awaited comeuppance.
“Atta girl!” A daydream sequence in which Judy envisions hunting down Hart (“A wart on the nose of humanity”) like a wild animal (followed by Doralee’s complementary skit about her as the boss conducting her own improper seductions against a subordinate, and Violet’s grim fairy tale retribution, complete with cartoon accompaniment) is something of an odd editing choice, resembling a sitcom more than a theatrical film. But it certainly provides an opportunity for cathartic revenge fantasy to demonstrate the potency of role reversals and the very realistic predicaments of an egotistical, hypocritical, bigoted boss. “I’m not gonna be stopped by three dumb-witted broads.”
“Oh, dear god!” The picture proceeds to revel in over-the-top, comical scenarios, steadily shifting away from the believable horrors of an office run by a sexist dictator to instead embrace outrageous mixups and panicked decisions. The escalation from down-to-earth corporate oppression to harebrained criminal evidential tampering is a stretch, aided by slapstick complications (like a goofy “Thelma & Louise”), which make it more difficult to appreciate the sincere message about workplace impropriety and manipulation. A run-in with a police officer, while entirely expected, is yet another additive toward total farce. And it doesn’t stop there; the actions only get more and more out of control. It’s the kind of comedy that goes to such extremes to design an unsolvable conflict that the solution can only be one of equivalent senselessness.
Fortunately, as “Nine to Five” follows a loopy heist-movie formula, with the three heroines hilariously scheming to correct their misdeeds, the humor tends to win out over the frivolities (amplified by upbeat musical cues). Toward the conclusion, as it becomes a total wishful-thinking, women’s lib fantasy (even presenting just deserts in Judy’s personal life), it does have to notably steer clear of genuine fixes – such as killing in self defense. Yet despite dampening the effectiveness of the notes on sexual harassment (which were so pertinent at the start), the end result is something rather encouraging – in a lighthearted way – bringing the mountain of eccentricities to a satisfying close.
– Mike Massie