#TBThursday Review: Shining the ‘SPOTLIGHT’ on Workplace Films


IMG_1512Cole Clay // Film Critic

Everybody knows work sucks no matter how great or ideal your job may be, but sometimes the mere though of clocking-in can cause your blood to boil. The entrance of the workplace comedy into the cultural landscape began to cause a zeitgeist in 2005 when THE OFFICE hit the NBC airwaves. This made work fun and poked fun at the idiosyncrasies we all experienced on a daily basis.

On the other hand, showing a group of people working on a team to complete a procedural task has the potential for motives and methods to clash, which provides actors an excellent showcase to boast some acting chops.

SPOTLIGHT takes place during a rough five-month period in 2001 where the “Spotlight” reporting team of The Boston Globe work through a story involving sexual molestation within the Catholic Church Archdiocese. This important topic shows the ins-and-outs on the process of journalism and the effects that takes on the team’s internal dynamic.

Expanding in theaters this weekend, SPOTLIGHT stars a glowing ensemble, including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Liev Schreiber. With its impressive cast, everyone plays an integral part to the balancing the story. It’s the front-runner for the coveted Best Picture prize come next year’s Academy Awards; however, we still have until the end of December to take-in more cinema.

For this week’s edition of our #tbt review column, we are shining the ‘spotlight’ on “workplace ensembles” within the world of film.

910rlMP7z4L._SL1500_BROADCAST NEWS (1987)

In the 1980s, there were a plethora of movies centered on women in the workplace, most notably 9 TO 5, WORKING GIRL, and BABY BOOM. However, these films were earmarked by female protagonists that had an inner strength looking to make changes in the work environment. Surely there is something culturally significant as to why the characters were shaped this way, and they’re all good movies in their own right. But, BROADCAST NEWS stands above most films in the workplace because the female is on par, if not more superior, than the male counterparts.

The film revolves around a news team who all want success, while volleying back and forth over the line dividing professionalism and romance. Jane (Holly Hunter) is the news producer trying to maintain success during a transition in news formatting. She’s also trying to achieve success in a relationship with Tom (William Hurt), the “face of the news” that wants success as a presenter of events, rather than a symbol of presentation. Then there’s Aaron, the reporter who puts himself out there to get a successful story, but won’t put himself out there for Jane.

Rather than put the love triangle as the focus of the narrative, director James L. Brooks balances the want of a relationship with the want of professional achievement. It never feels watered down or something just going for an emotional payoff. The characters have a realistic quality that shines through in the dialogue and humor. Furthermore, the shift from a majority of news stories that inform to a majority of feature stories that entertain for profit is still familiar in today’s culture.

Almost 30 years later, and this change in broadcast policy is still going on. BROADCAST NEWS doesn’t try to dumb anyone down as it shuns formula for earnestness, and, in turn, achieves a timelessness. It’s one of the best comedies of all time.
– Jared McMillan

the-devil-wears-prada_3b549741-800x400THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)

There’s a line in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA where Emily Blunt’s character says she doesn’t eat much “and right before [she] feels like [she’s] going to faint, [she] eats a cube of cheese.”

Image and dedication are the key ingredients to success in Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) world of fashion. There are no favors. There is no forgiveness. You either look and play the part, or you’re out the door pushing paper.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA takes us inside one the most influential magazines in fashion, Runway. It presents what the intense atmosphere is like, where Anne Hathaway’s Andy makes fun of her coworkers by calling clothes “stuff” and the people themselves “clackers” for the sounds their stilettos make on the marble floor.

The film shows the Runway team working together to uphold their reputation and meet tight deadlines. It definitely requires all hands on deck, and the film doesn’t sugarcoat the workplace either– so “gird your loins.”
– Preston Barta

monsters-inc-508033d0ef28cMONSTERS, INC. (2001)

I know what you’re thinking: how does the fictional, animated world of Pixar fit in here? Well, the film’s creators designed the monster world as a parody of the human world. MONSTERS, INC. showcases what it’s like to work in a working factory where people’s job is to collectively work towards one goal– scare kids remorselessly.

There are production elements within the film that make the monster world as believable as the real world of work. There are scenes where groups work together to focus on the organizational behavior elements, organizational constructs, leadership, training, corporate culture, employee recognition, networks, effects of technology– the list goes on. Simply put, the film focuses on life inside a large corporation, a corporation (a large power company) that is populated by monster personifications of typical business personalities.

And at the end of it all, MONSTERS, INC. is a sweet story about people who find love in those who are different– in this case, humans and monsters. It’s delightful.
– P.B.

the_informant08THE INFORMANT! (2009)

What people forget is other than being world-wide superstar, Matt Damon is a top-of-the-line actor who plays well off of others. This dedication was featured in THE INFORMANT!, a sleeper from director Steven Soderbergh (OCEAN’S 11) that many quite frankly just didn’t see. That is because it’s a film that’s hard to put into one particular box.

Complete with toupée and potbelly, Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a successful executive who blows the whistle on the price fixing that took place at his tedious job selling lysine (a chemical used in agricultural). As the film develops, Damon plays off of two FBI agents played by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale (an excellent improvisor), along with other clueless suited corporate executive.

It’s true this is a Damon vehicle, but as wonderful as his performance is in the film, it truly wouldn’t work without the straight-laced brass reacting to his borderline dissociative actions that are all played for laughs in first-rate fashion.

THE INFORMANT! has the necessary story progressions, but the last act has one of the most satisfying conclusions that bring the entire cast to work together.
– C.C.

waiting-ryan-reynoldsWAITING… (2005)

If you’ve worked in the restaurant business, there’s a lot of truth in the 2005 workplace comedy WAITING…, starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Justin Long. It keeps its plot dead simple: a waiting staff collectively stave off boredom and adulthood with their antics.

Restaurants constantly deal with that annoying, b*tchy customer; the one who doesn’t tip; birthdays; foreigners– the list goes on. And WAITING… highlights the environment in high-class comedic fashion. Beware of “the goat.”

As blink-182 said in their hit-song “All the Small Things,” “works sucks, I know.”
– P.B.

SPOTLIGHT expands its release tomorrow (11/13).

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.