This is a bit strange. I have a vague recollection that the way I first became aware of 9 to 5 was through an episode of Inside the Actors Studio featuring Jane Fonda, but that can’t be the case because according to IMDB the Fonda episode only aired in 2005, which feels far too recent for it to be true if my memories are to be trusted as I would date my memories far further back than that, somewhere around the year 1998 or so. And that feels slightly concerning in a hypochondriac “Oh God Does This Count As A Super Early Sign Of Alzheimer’s Disease?” sort of way. But anyway, it was the colorful memories of the few clips that I saw of the movie, in whatever context once upon a time, that really stuck to me to this day and prompted me to finally watch the movie when I happened to come by it recently.
Being over thirty years old at this point, certain things in the movie unavoidably feel very old fashioned and foreign by today’s POV. The casual, open misogyny that floats around the edges of the story feels almost cartoonish and when you see certain old school office instruments, like the shoulder rest for landline phones, it’s like discovering ancient relics from a pyramid. That said, while aesthetically the movie might feel very dated, the central women empowerment message mixed with the clever comedy still has potency in it today and none of it really comes off that preachy, which is a plus. I’ve always found it easier to enjoy media when it isn’t so overtly on the nose about trying to teach me morals.
Normally I don’t that often care for original theme songs written for movies, they can so easily be horribly bland and forgettable if you know what I mean, but for whatever reason Dolly Parton’s theme song, named after the movie, really struck a chord with me. The song is devilishly catchy pop tune and the lyrics are pretty funny and cheery as well. I can see why it would go to receive so many award nominations, including an Oscar nod (ultimately losing to Fame), as well as winning two Grammy Awards out of four nominations in total.
I’ve always found it somewhat interesting to watch older comedies because the humor tends to be so different from what you’re used to seeing in modern films. It’s a nice contrast that can add to the viewing experience in my eyes. Sometimes this can mean the humor you encounter is much more downplayed and clever, relying on being pure situational comedy or then it can be clever, wry wordplay, rather than just throwing quick, fast paced jokes at you at speeds of over hundred miles per hour. In this case, I find the humor in 9 to 5 to be very subdued, so much so that it at times almost doesn’t register as a straight laced comedy. It’s a funny movie don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a gut-bursting, laugh so hard you cry sort of affair though there are few very hilarious scenes in it. And as such, it’s a nice change of pace from the modern TV comedies I’ve been consuming lately.
My absolute favorite funny bit in the movie is the sequence where all the three heroines, Fonda, Parton and Tomlin, (after smoking a joint) are dreaming up ways to get even with their misogynistic boss, Mr. Hart: in Jane Fonda’s revenge fantasy we see a safari hunt taking place in the office space, with Mr. Hart playing the part of the fleeing prey and Fonda as the hunter. It’s whimsical and absurd and really, really amusing and tongue in cheek. Meanwhile in Dolly’s mind the sexual harassment she has had to tolerate as Hart’s secretary gets turned upside down, so that now she’s the boss harassing Mr. Hart instead. And as if that wasn’t enough, for the coup de grâce, the segment ends with Parton lassoing the fleeing Mr. Hart like a true cowgirl in a rodeo, going as far as tying him up from his limbs like a cow. Last, but not least, in Lily Tomlin’s mind we see Tomlin dreaming herself as a Snow White type of figure, wearing the iconic dress from the Disney movie and accompanied animated animal friends, who oh so gleefully poisons Mr. Hart by spiking his daily cup of coffee before personally serving it to him, a task that she in real life loathes to do due to the demeaning nature of it. Tomlin’s fantasy is extra funny because later on there’s a small subplot where Tomlin and co. mistakenly think that Tomlin accidentally ends up poisoning Hart. There’s so much wonderful panic and chaos when the three of them arrive at the hospital and Tomlin mistakes a dead body for Mr. Hart and then, in sheer panic, decides to smuggle the body away from the hospital so she wouldn’t be tried for murder.
While reading about the background to the movie, I was surprised to learn that they had actually made a TV spin off of the movie and the sitcom was popular enough for it to have ran for five whole seasons, which sounds pretty remarkable. I know M.A.S.H ran for like forever, but beyond that I can’t really recall any other movie spin off shows that have had such a longevity until more recently, with things like Bates Motel that is in its fourth season soon, but this might most likely just be my own ignorance and bad memory at work. I’m sure that if I could be bothered to google a little I would find there’s been more than its fair share of movies that have went on to get a TV show treatment in one form or another.
All in all, 9 to 5 is a smashing little picture that I think really ought to be talked about more. It’s funny and has a message that still feels like it should be heard and discussed, even in post-Emma Watson’s speech about gender equality to the UN world.