9 to 5 review – Dolly Parton's quietly radical office revenge satire

Thirty-eight years on, this tale of misogyny, kidnap and rattling typewriters is a boldly progressive piece of film-making

This 1980 feminist revenge comedy, starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as three New York office workers who kidnap their misogynist monster of a boss, is rereleased nationally, tagged to the Comedy Genius season at London’s BFI Southbank. Parton’s pumpingly brilliant song over the opening credits declares: “In the same boat / With a lot of your friends / Waiting for the day / Your ship will come in / And the tide’s gonna turn / And it’s all gonna roll your way.” Thirty-eight years on, is Parton’s prophecy being fulfilled?

It was written by Patricia Resnick, who three years previously had been uncredited writer on Robert Altman’s experimental movie 3 Women, the trio of titular leads there possibly representing id, ego and superego. A PhD needs to be written on whether that interpretation applies to Parton, Fonda and Tomlin. From the perspective of today, 9 to 5 is a fascinating time capsule of the wage slavery and sexism of its time, with a great shot of a grimly vast office (as in The Apartment), a giant Xerox collating machine, and hulking, humming IBM golfball electric typewriters everywhere. 9 to 5 looks fiercer and more wayward than, say, the later Working Girl (1988), and, unlike that movie, it did not feel the need to balance the female characters with an emollient male romantic lead.

The sequences showing the three women’s weed-fuelled fantasy sequences of what they’d like to do to their boss (Dabney Coleman) are almost avant garde and their action plan is incidentally pretty radical too. Once they’ve got their horrible manager tied up, they fake his signature on memos decreeing job shares, a creche, an office redesign that accommodates access for wheelchair users. Pretty bold stuff, and not every 2018 workplace has as much, but 9 to 5 finally seems to lose its nerve, just a little bit, on the equal pay issue.

Of the three, probably only Tomlin is really convincing as an office worker: her face is a hilarious mask of satirical detestation. I’m never sure about the more farcical and Ortonesque bits of the film, which detract from its real-world impact. Yet everything is licensed by satire. And who knows if the central plot point might not have inspired the later “bossnappings” in French workplaces. 9 to 5 is tremendous fun.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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