The Story: Four young women temps form a fragile friendship in a sea of stultifying cubicles, until a series of unsolved petty thefts brings chaos and distrust.
How it Came to be Underrated: 1998 was probably the peak year for American Indie cinema, which meant that small movies like this one could get made, but this still never found the audience it deserved.
Why It’s Great:
- The first rule of America: don’t talk about work! The cancer of perpetual underemployment spread so quietly through America because of one magical word: shame. This is a movie that’s not afraid to talk about work and confront that shame. These women aren’t protesting their job situation to their boss because they don’t even know if they have a boss. This is a modern-day fable about how sublimated rage will eventually make us destroy ourselves and each other.
- What makes the movie work is the compassionate, unblinking eye it casts on the tiny little details we cling to in our lives. We feel the impact of the petty thefts that tear apart the office because Sprecher knows how to capture the small moments that cause us to invest transitory objects with personal meaning—meaning that we can never explain to others when those objects go away.
- It’s rare to see a movie about work, but it’s even more rare to see movie about straight women whose problems are neither caused by nor solved by men! It passes the Bechdel test, and then some. True, one of the four is getting into a bad marriage, but that is shown as a symptom of her problems, not the source. For the powerless, a bad relationship is jut one more bad option in a sea of bad options.
- Watching it again, I came to the bittersweet conclusion that this movie is now a time capsule of a long-gone era: the indie boom. The filmmaking is somewhat dated now in a '90s-ish-Parker-Posey kind of way*, but that also gives it a new value, as an excellent exemplar of a time when there was a thriving art-house circuit for “small” movies. Wave good-bye, folks, because I don’t think it’s coming back.
*(that’s an unfair thing to say, since Parker Posey is actually great here, and I miss her)
Underrated Compared To: Various darlings of the Sundance era, but that entire generation of filmmakers is having such a hard time right now that I hate to add insult to injury.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: The Sprecher sisters had a follow-up film that was also worth watching called “13 Conversation About One Thing”
How Available Is It?: It’s available on a bare-bones dvd, but not instantly.
Ahhhhhhhh. Having you out there to spotlight overlooked but worthy films feels like an incredible luxury, like suddenly developing another sense. The problem with being a compulsive consumer of books and films is that there are ALWAYS more of both than I can get to. And I love the format you've adopted, breaking your reactions into separate questions/categories that make it easier to compare and contrast. Keep it up, please!
I love it that you mentioned The Bechdel Test!
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