Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton act out a wacky feminist revenge fantasy in 9 To 5

Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton act out a wacky feminist revenge fantasy in 9 To 5

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Internship inspires us to reflect on some of our favorite workplace comedies.

The employee driven to a murderous rage by a horrible boss is a staple of office comedies, from Office Space to the characters in the unimaginatively titled Horrible Bosses. Colin Higgins’ 9 To 5, released in 1980, distinguishes itself from the pack with a screwball spin on second-wave feminism and a trio of excellent leads.

Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton play archetypal women—a competent businesswoman denied promotion because of her gender, a newly divorced and naive housewife, and an oblivious, traditionally feminine secretary, respectively—conspiring to eliminate their brutish, pigheaded boss, played by a very game Dabney Coleman. 9 To 5’s overt emphasis on gender politics plays out in ways both far too on the nose (at one point Coleman is literally trapped at home watching Days Of Our Lives) and surprisingly biting (though many of the women’s humane, productivity-boosting ideas are lauded, senior management still mock the idea of equal pay).

Two other things save 9 To 5 from tipping into bland, overly broad revenge fantasy. First, the cast is phenomenal: All three stars acquit themselves spectacularly without appearing to fight for screen time. Tomlin’s sharp, beleaguered professional and Fonda’s newly empowered housewife both transcend the simplicity of their characters, and Parton’s star power in her first film nearly overpowers her more seasoned costars. 

Second, 9 To 5 has an unexpected weird streak. Most notably, the three women have a series of literal fantasies where each of them murders Coleman, including one where Tomlin is animated as Snow White. Coleman spends a not-inconsiderable portion of the film in an S&M-style ball gag and chain. 9 To 5’s corporate environment, Consolidated Companies, isn’t quite as cartoonish as other workplace settings, but its approximation of real offices and real misogyny make the wackiness all the more welcome.

Availability: Several DVD editions (including a Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot edition) and streaming on Netflix.

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