9 to 5: Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition (1980)

Leigh H. Edwards (Rating: 8; Extras: 8)

Producer and star Jane Fonda nails it: 9 to 5 endures because of its 'historical synchronicity.'"

9 to 5: Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition

Director: Colin Higgins
Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Wilson
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 1980
US DVD Release Date: 2006-04-04
Amazon affiliate

Producer and star Jane Fonda nails it: 9 to 5 endures because of its "historical synchronicity." A wish fulfillment fantasy about secretaries who get back at their abusive boss, the film warrants this 25th anniversary deluxe DVD treatment. Obviously a "woman's power" message film like many others, what makes it distinctive is its historical context: the film hit a nerve with audiences in 1980 and helped spark workplace reforms. In a raucous commentary track including Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and producer Bruce Gilbert, Fonda argues, "It's a comedy, but it exposed issues that office workers had been trying to get on the map for a long time. The movie showed that they were real, you know, so it was the beginning of them starting to do something about it. I mean, it really started a movement."

This "movement" finds inspiration when three secretaries kidnap their boss and hold him hostage, running the office in his absence. They institute equal pay for equal job levels, a daycare center, part-time schedules, job-sharing and flexible hours, and a company alcoholism rehab program (the job was driving the secretaries to drink). As for the link to real world social reforms, Fonda tells us that director and co-writer Colin Higgins (who also directed Harold and Maude) did extensive research with an organization of clerical workers. After the film's release, that group became a union and called themselves "District 925."

How does the film speak to us now? While the glass ceiling suggests we still have work to do, co-writer Patricia Resnick notes, today's labor conditions might make us nostalgic for a 9 to 5 work day. But it may be that the film's most sustained effect is Dolly Parton. She did and continues to expose the artificiality of gender through her charismatic excessiveness. She's not only performer to turn herself into a parody of a sex object in a way that both banks on gender stereotypes and critiques them. But her folksy country "town tramp" persona is all hers, constructed with a knowing wink. It's camp in the sense that we're all in on the joke with her.

The film combines Parton-as-embodied-critique with a more conventional feminism. Her character, secretary Doralee Rhodes, is initially ostracized by her coworkers. Boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman) harasses her and spreads rumors that she's his mistress. Because of her appearance, everyone believes him. She not only corrects the rumors and displays a singular competence, but also gains respect from her peers by asserting herself and then some.

Parton's famous theme song expands on this "empowering" theme. (You can sing along to on a "'Nine to Five' Karaoke" extra on the DVD). Parton reveals that she had all the women acting in the film sing together on the record, and that she composed the song by listening to the characterizations on the set and the ideas in the film. Best part: she then used her famously outlandish fake fingernails as her rhythm section. Parton says they sounded like a typewriter to her and inspired the song; she "plays her fingernails" to get this typewriter sound, which signifies secretaries toiling away. She jokes, "You've gotta have falsies to do this, and the nails have to be artificial as well."

The song and the film have served as an anthem for frustrated workers everywhere. In the DVD extra, "Nine @ 25," Parton tartly observes, "Whether you're a man or a woman, if the boss is a prick, you wish you could do something to him." Resnick says they were surprised by the huge male and teenaged audience for the film, which she attributes to broad-based frustrations with "any power figure."

Opposed to this authority are Hart's assistant Violet Newsted's (Tomlin), whose great ideas he steals, and idealistic newbie Judy Bernly (Fonda), whom he ridicules. Among the film's most entertaining scenes are the fantasies during the women's pot pajama party, as each imagines how she'd get back at Hart. Judy visualizes hunting him down, shooting him, and mounting his head on a wall. Doralee turns cowgirl boss (Fonda says Parton looks like "Barbara Stanwyck with boobs") and makes Hart play "secretary": she ropes, hogties, and roasts him on a spit. Violet's fantasy involves some kickier satire, turning her into a demented Snow White. The woodland animals (animated moppets) look on approvingly as she poisons Hart's coffee and then catapults him out of the office window with an ejector chair.

The women's dreams of revenge become a reality when they think Violet has accidentally poisoned him. Though she didn't, Hart finds out from office snitch Roz (Elizabeth Wilson) that they tried to, and he threatens to send them to jail. They tie him up, promise to blackmail him (they've caught him embezzling), and no one even notices he's absent. When the big boss arrives to reward the jump in productivity, Hart -- who has escaped his captivity -- is forced to smile and take credit for the women's reforms. If a paternalistic status quo office has everyone playing her part, 9 to 5 gleefully exposes the power and fury of women let loose.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.