This weekend brings us Office Christmas Party, the bastard child of a Garry Marshall holiday schmaltz-fest (Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day) and the dick-and-shit jokes of the Bad movies (Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Moms). It isn’t good, at least according to pretty much every critic in the country: “Tons of Funny Stars Can’t Make This Office Christmas Party Worth Attending,” the A.V. Club headline lamented. I, however, won’t be attending mainly because my weekends are typically filled with some variation of the following:
I also have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and just about every movie channel known to man — I’m not a cord cutter in large part because I still find joy in endlessly scrolling through my 800 DIRECTV channels and letting movies find me. (That’s essentially how I’ve seen the last third of Silence of the Lambs roughly 45 times in the past six months.) In other words, my knowledge of non-theatrical options is vast. Maybe not specifically for other movies and TV shows about office Christmas parties, but certainly about work life, office culture and doing time on a cube farm….
Wait a second. I still want to watch something about an office Christmas party. I totally get it. And the best thing ever recorded on film about said Christmas party is the two-part The Office Christmas special, the quasi-finale to the best thing ever recorded on film about work life, The Office (U.K. edition). There’s some holiday cheese — even David Brent (Ricky Gervais) finds love in the end. But mostly it’s filled with Gervais-ian bite — Brent is now a traveling salesman who has spent most of his money on his own record label (Juxtaposition Records) and this music video for his cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”:
Ricky Gervais remade that NBC show with Steve Carell? Actually, it was the other way around. But the American version of The Office had some pretty great Christmas episodes, too. My personal favorite is the first — from Season Two, which also comes with a healthy helping of holiday cheese (lots of will-they-or-won’t-they Jim and Pam) but lots of peak Michael Scott (Carell), too. Case in point, his wisdom around gift giving: “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth.’”
Enough with the mockumentaries already. Sure. Then let me suggest Startup.com, an actual documentary from director D.A. Pennebaker about a company that wanted to help you pay your traffic tickets online before people paid for everything online (circa 2001). An idea that came both too soon and just before the first dotcom bubble burst. High hopes have never gone to shit more quickly, and the business, the office and the relationships that built both fall apart right in front of Pennebaker and his cameras, which makes for super compelling viewing.
Jesus, can you get any heavier? Kinda. Or at least much nastier. There are no two bigger corporate dickheads than Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) in Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men. (In the late 1990s, no one did misogyny and misanthropy like LaBute; almost 20 years later, I still haven’t been able to shake Jason Patric’s locker-room admission in Your Friends & Neighbors.)
Chad’s particular brand of evil is a mix of corporate backstabbing and corporate boredom that, as Roger Ebert explained in his review of the film, says as much about the dynamics of the workplace as it does about Chad’s general shittiness. “There is an incredibly painful scene in In the Company of Men where Chad tells a young black trainee, ‘they asked me to recommend someone for the management training program,’ and then requires the man to humiliate himself in order to show that he qualifies. At first you see the scene as racist. Then you realize Chad and the trainee are both victims of the corporate culture they occupy, in which the power struggle is the only reality. Something forces both of them to stay in the room during that ugly scene — job insecurity.”
The humiliation in question:
Please, please, please lighten the mood. Well then, snoochie boochies! Or how about snoochie boochie noochies? Either way, Clerks will effectively wash away the conference-room dystopia of In the Company of Men and replace it with the dueling monologues of Kevin Smith’s minimum-wage convenience-store comedy. It’s where Smith’s most familiar characters originated, including Jay (of Jay and Silent Bob), the man who coined the term “snoochie boochies” in the first place. If black-and-white proto-mumblecore isn’t your thing, I recommend the sequel, Clerks II, which, in Smith-speak, is more Empire Strikes Back than Return of the Jedi.
But what if I don’t like all that talking? There’s at least one major action sequence in Cedar Rapids:
And while the movie isn’t set in an office, it perfectly approximates the adult summer camp nature of business trips and the fleeting relationships (romantic or otherwise) that come with them — maybe even better than Up in the Air did.
Speaking of other movies, didn’t you forget about Office Space? It was too easy. But if you must: