Three office workers bond over their sexist boss and try to find a way to get one over on him.
Colin Higgins, 1980
On her first day at a new company, recently divorced Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) struggles to get by. Her trainer, Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), has been working at the company for 12 years but still hasn’t had a promotion. Their horrible boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), refuses to give her one, stealing her ideas and making her bring him coffee. Meanwhile, he harasses his married secretary Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton), spreading rumours that she’s sleeping with him. When Hart screws over all three women in one day, they all get together and fantasise about ways to get their revenge. The next day, an accident kicks off a series of events that eventually leads the women to sorta kinda accidentally kidnap Hart, running the company in his stead.
You know how sometimes you think you’ve seen something, but you saw it as a kid and you remember that the movie had Lily Tomlin in an 80s power suit and nothing else, and it turns out you didn’t see a seminal feminist power fantasy starring three amazing actresses but actually saw a kinda dorky movie about twins switched at birth instead? I mean, everybody’s had that moment, right? Well, it turned out I thought I’d seen 9 to 5, but I’d actually seen Big Business. Which means I’d somehow never seen this gem of a movie until now. I had no idea what I was missing out on. This movie is awesome. Written for its three stars, they’re all perfect in their parts, and their chemistry is off the charts. Dolly Parton is charming, Lily Tomlin is sardonic genius, and Jane Fonda is grounding and sweet. Dabney Coleman is admirably horrible. The movie has impeccable timing, building the zaniness slowly so that you relate to the characters before they get into the kookier elements of the plot. It’s a cleverly put together film, well-written and fun, and the way the women ultimately beat their foe is rather wonderful.
The movie has a few comedic high points. The fantasy sequences are cathartic genius, the scene where Violet tries to cover up her mistakes at a hospital is brilliant, and Judy pretending she’s into S&M is comedy gold. Everybody gets their moments in the sun. They give us a glimpse into each woman’s home life, just enough to enhance their characters. Dolly Parton’s famous title song kicks the movie off on a high note and closes it the same way, bringing a bubbly energy to the film. The film’s feminist message and depiction of sexism in the workplace is handled well, pointing out that it isn’t only their evil boss but the whole system that’s sexist. It’s delivered in a fun, clever way, but doesn’t soften its message for the audience. Ultimately, its real strength is that it’s so relatable. The daily grind, the awful boss, and the frustration of finicky details and photocopiers and living for the weekend. By making it so universal, it delivers its message brilliantly.
9 to 5 on IMDb