Clockwatchers [retro review]

“The only thing challenging about this job is keeping busy when you have nothing to do.”

The Scoop: 1997 PG-13, directed by Jill Sprecher and starring Toni Collette, Parker Posey, and Lisa Kudrow

Tagline: Four girls. Four dreams. One office.

Summary Capsule: Four temps face boredom and corporate stupidity

Justin’s Rating: Yet nobody tried to make a desk fort, for shame, for shame

Justin’s Review: I can’t imagine a worse job than being a temp in a corporate environment. I mean, it’s bad enough when you work at one of those sterile hell-holes full time, where you command at least a regular salary and a tiny bit of authority. But when you’re just a person hired to fill a temporary spot doing the modern equivelant of ditch digging… well, you might as well be a ghost. That sucks. The good news, is that the ghosts can get away with a lot. Like you can haunt the toilet and mess around with the lighting on the elevators and possess the upper management in order to see them dance semi-nude and smear themselves with print toner.

Clockwatchers is an immortal classic about a foursome of ghost temps who find themselves in the shadowy realm between corporate reality and basic insanity. Without any clear purpose, boss, or reason to be there, the temps find themselves challenged to stave off boredom any way possible. Iris (Toni Collette), the plucked heroine of the story, is about as meek and mousey of a girl as you could find. Fortunately, with the help of rebellious Margaret (the Indie Rebel Parker Posey), the somewhat guy-crazy Paula (Lisa Kudrow), and the about-to-be-married Jane (Alanna Ubach), Iris joins a circle of friendship that might very well be as temporary as the job. But at least it’s an opportunity to do girly things and find tiny, tiny ways to rebel against the system.

Much like Office Space, Clockwatchers mocks the dumb structure of corporate life, from the organized chaos to the petty jealousness of the people within. I mean, in the large scheme of things, who really cares about accounting for every last pencil and paperclip from the office supplies area? Or clocking out a couple minutes ahead of time? Or actually having meaningful work to do? If this film has anything to say about it, we’re just all highly evolved rats running the wheel and punching buttons for food.

Not to say that rats can’t be entertaining. In the sheer boredom that pervades the environment of this film, Iris and her brood make us smile through countless attempts to keep busy. I think it’s more funny because the things they come up with — playing with the height bar on the chairs, popping bubble wrap, building paperclip necklaces, sniffing markers — are all activities that we’ve done countless times in our lives as well. It’s funny because it’s petty and pointless, and because by wasting time, they strike back at the meaningless company that doesn’t even want them.

I think you’ll be amazed how angry and frustrated you’ll get at the management and general stupidity the girls have to put up with, and definitely side with every rebellious gesture and gripe that they make (including Margaret’s ripping of a blockhead office memo moments after receiving it). I kind of hoped that the ending would be more uplifting, but I think that I would have been disappointed if it was. I know that I’d last maybe two days, tops, before going Clerks on the place.

Which one of them is Keyser Soze?

Intermission!

  • Hey, it’s that guy from Sports Night as the receptionist! Jeremy what’s-his-name!
  • Yay! Bubble wrap! How relaxing…
  • Paula doing her “acting” faces on the bus is hysterical in its badness
  • The office supply nazi
  • Mmm… marker smell
  • The guy who REALLY likes his naked lady cup and REALLY likes his seat at the boardroom table
  • The director and her sister (who co-wrote this movie) were both real-life temps — before AND after making this film.

Groovy Quotes

Margaret: That’s another thing about temping: give advice. By the time anyone finds out, you’ll be long gone.

Margaret: The only thing challenging about this job is keeping busy when you have nothing to do.

Margaret: [after stealing glasses at a bar] If anyone saw us, WE’D BE DRINKING BY NOW!

Margaret: I’ve got a confession to make, Art, I’ve been hawking White-Out and pencils on the corner, just to make ends meet, you know?

Jane: I used to work in a bank. There was this button on the desk and I kept looking at it every day for a month and finally I just pushed it. It was the alarm. They never tell you anything because they’re afraid you’ll take their stupid jobs.

Margaret: I can sit there and do nothing as good as anyone.

Iris: Everything is temporary. Everything begins and ends and begins again. When I look ahead, I imagine infinite possible futures repeated like countless photocopies, a thousand blank pages, and in each one I see myself, never hiding, never sitting silently, and never just waiting and waiting and watching the world go by.

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