Warning: Spoilers ahead! It is recommended you do not read ahead unless you have seen this movie before or simply do not care about spoilers. I will also go over various plot lines assuming that you, the audience member, have seen this movie before, so if you’re looking for an easy summary, this may not be for you.
“What a way to make a living, working 9 to 5, it’s enough to drive you … CRAZY IF YOU LET IT.”
Oh … sorry. I was just singing along to this classic movie. Anyway, as per my last movie review, other than co-starring Dolly Parton and spawning the hit single that is the movie title, 9 to 5 doesn’t have a lot to do with country music history.
Do I care? Of course not, because the movie arguably carries more impact now than it did back in 1980. Let’s be honest, you can tell what this movie is about just by looking at the cover. A grumpy man is tied in his big, comfy chair while three women (Jane Fonda, Lilly Tomlin and Parton) make a toast to keeping him tied there. They’ve overcome their male oppressor (quite literally from the looks of it). When this was made, Anita Hill hadn’t yet testified for her sexual harassment claims, and the #MeToo movement was still a long way away from existing.
And of course, that deals with more high-profile celebrities or more prominent figures, but what about the everyday person? While I shudder to think about how long “workplace tensions” (for lack of a better term) have occurred, is there a better way to make these messages known throughout the media?
That’s what makes 9 to 5 such an effective oddball of a movie. It’s able to effectively tow the line between telling a serious message throughout while also keeping things light-hearted and humorous enough. Of course, most of the humor used here is dark humor, and there are many instances where if you let just one line or detail pass you by, you won’t grasp the message.
The opening sequence with its bright, uptempo title song and shots of a city in the morning are quite effective. We see normal, everyday people heading off to work, but the workers are also varied in terms of gender, color and occupation, basically showing how we’re all in the same boat and should be treated fairly (I also like how their feet march along to the beat when the song hits its first chorus, another subtle detail).
It also doesn’t take too long to get to the main characters or see their individual traits. Judy (Fonda) is the stereotypical former housewife who’s intimidated by the big city and her new job. Violet (Tomlin) on the other hand is the exact opposite. She’s experienced, sharp and obviously capable of doing a “man’s job.” Doralee (Parton) is just the nice “dumb blonde” who everyone assumes is sleeping with the boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), the bonafide sexist, hypocritical, lying, bigoted pig (according to the movie). Violet even mentions to Judy that she trained Hart at one point, thus showing how men advance quicker in the workplace (even though Violet is more than capable of handling being a boss).
A scene such as the one where Hart invites Doralee into his office knowing full well that he’ll try and make sexual advances on her is disturbing, but unfortunately not very likely uncommon in the workplace.
It takes awhile before all three star protagonists realize they’re all on the same side, and it’s unfortunate that it takes instances of things going too far for them to do something about it, but they finally do … well, in a sense that is.
Thanks to a weed cigarette courtesy of Violet’s son, the three friends fantasize about getting even in what has to be the most creative segue into something completely different in a movie that I’ve ever seen.
The first time around, watching the fantasy of Judy shooting Hart in hilarious fashion is odd, but adds all the more charm to the movie. It gets crazier as Doralee rounds up Hart with a rope “Texas style” before Violet uses the power of imaginary forest creatures to slip poison in his tea in some crazy fairy-tale-like phenomenon. Lo and behold, all of these fantasies eventually come true in a smaller fashion later on.
Perhaps that’s just a jab at the gravity of these kinds of situations. Women have to resort to fantasy rather than action because … well, what other choice do they really have (or at least what choice did they have in 1980)? It’s humorous, but it also sheds a light on how sad it really all is when you stop to think about its meaning. Of course, the movie certainly wants us to think this. After all, it’s revisited at the very end with that equal pay joke.
On that note too, none of the three women have any intentions to kill or even hurt Hart. It’s just that, as fate has it, that happens regardless due to an accident (and this movie takes a dark turn VERY quickly).
Even during this sequence though, regardless of how warped the situation is when they move what they think is Hart’s dead body out of the hospital, the women as always take action to solve the problem. We see Violet early in the movie fixing the garage door with her son, and later on all three women work to fix their front fender after their “getaway.” And let’s be honest too, those shots are intentional. Let’s not lie and say there’s no stereotype out there when it comes to women doing handiwork or fixing cars.
Back to the situation though, as luck has it, they get caught. As the three sit and plan after capturing Hart once more, one more of the many one-liners make their way into the film. “Maybe we can frame him in a sex scandal!” Judy says, only for the others to counter with “who would care?” Again, it’s another clever use of irony and how the humor downplays the seriousness of it.
At the very least, while their fantasies to outright hurt Hart were just silly little dreams, they do get what they want as they re-do the entire office structure while keeping Hart locked inside his house. Sure enough, treating your employees like equals and allowing for a more comfortable work environment where everyone is happy leads to higher productivity. Who knew?
While some would see the entire subplot of Judy’s promiscuous ex-husband, Dick (how fitting of a name for this movie) as unneeded, I see it as one more piece of the puzzle in this movie. Violet and Doralee are already tough. Heck, the latter keeps a gun in her purse. Judy on the other hand gradually evolves into her own woman, and her telling her ex-husband “don’t tell me what I can or can’t do” when he tries to woo her back is like the final piece of said puzzle.
Now, as a man, I’d at least like to defend the notion that the message of this movie isn’t that all men are pigs. Doralee’s husband, Dwayne, by all accounts is a good guy who tries to console her at the beginning, and Roz, Hart’s eyes and ears, is just as much at fault for being silent and ignorant as to what’s really going on. It’s not male versus female so much as it is oppressor versus accuser, and anyone who sides with the oppressor is on the wrong side.
Still, from Violet yelling at Mr. Hart because she “lost a promotion because of some stupid prejudice” to the other two standing up to “the man” in their own ways, this movie certainly gives the age-old message of “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Brilliantly subtle in its approach, 9 to 5 conveys its message in the most effective way possible – humor. Still, as noted numerous times throughout, that humor never gets in the way of shrouding over the message. It downplays it for sure, but probably because it’s the only way the people who need to hear it will. The title characters are all unique and evolve in their own ways, and with a great supporting cast, 9 to 5 is definitely an instant classic for its layers of nuance.