One of Austin’s favorite cult-classic comedies, "Office Space," celebrated its 20th anniversary with a screening and Q&A session at the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday. It kicked off a big week for the film, which will be inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame on Thursday at the Texas Film Awards, an unofficial opening salvo for South by Southwest. Since I was apparently the only person in Austin who had never seen the movie before, I was tasked with trying to help you relive the first time you saw it — before you knew the fat bug-eyed man with the red stapler, before you knew about flair and before you’d come to hate TPS reports.
Before he went backstage, I asked director Mike Judge what to look out for as a first-time viewer. He told me to watch out for his role in the film. I didn’t realize, though, how much I’d just outed myself in a theater packed with some of the movie’s biggest fans.
“There’s at least one guy here who’s never seen it before, the reporter from the Austin American-Statesman,” Judge told the audience before the show. “But he’s like 20, so he gets a pass.”
The man on my left leaned over to me: “That’s not you, is it?”
“I’m 21, actually,” I said.
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From the eyes of a man about as old as the film, here are six takeaways from someone watching "Office Space" for the first time:
1. There are a lot of memorable lines
This is a pretty obvious one, especially for a film that some fans could probably recite from start to finish. But what stuck out to me was just how many quotable lines and running gags the filmmakers could fit in a 90-minute movie. I might be referencing it for a while.
2. I feel bad for Milton
Of all the dysfunction that goes on at fictional company Initech, the part that bothers me the most is how everyone treats Milton. At least Peter tries to hear his concerns, but everyone else ignores him and intentionally excludes him until they shut him out of their minds and in the storage room. No one ever gives the poor guy a voice, and they try to shut him out, hoping that he eventually realizes he's not wanted. We've all been a Milton at some point in some way or another. Be kind to the Miltons of the world.
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3. The shooting joke caught me off guard
Buried in the script is a line from Michael when Peter finally returns for work after playing hooky for a couple days: "What the hell's going on, man? I thought you were going to come in here and start shooting." I'm not faulting Judge here, as times were different. But watching as a young person in America today, the line comes off a little blunt.
4. Initech could be anywhere
While Austinites love to claim the movie, what makes it so relatable is that Initech could be anywhere. The dark sea of cubicles is ubiquitous with office culture now, as is bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. What's more is that not much visibly ties "Office Space" to Austin besides the fact that Judge lived and shot the movie here. The cars have generic license plates, and they never pass by a landmark that ties it to Texas or Austin that I could recognize. Chotchkie's might as well be anywhere in America. Judge said that was a specific point he was trying to make, something which he said in hindsight may have been a risky choice.
5. Peter is the only character who’s self-aware, but he just doesn’t care
Nobody seems to realize they’re a part of the problem. Michael won’t take any blame for his coding error; Initech upper management doesn’t realize how bloated their business structure is; and Drew’s just a nosy pervert. Peter’s the only one who recognizes his faults, calling the gang a bunch of nerds, identifying his motivation problem and joking that he’s not been “missing” work. He sums it up pretty succinctly: “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.” If someone with a little more inspiration could wake up and realize that they were a part of the problem, Initech might not be such a bad place to work.
6. Going with a cast of fresh faces was the right choice
Judge told the audience that the studio wanted him to recast the lead roles, including Ben Affleck as Peter. But what makes the comedy more relatable is that everyone is an average Joe played by average Joes, apart from Jennifer Aniston as Joanna to ground the film in '90s pop culture. Judge made the right calls to defend his cast of choice.