Horrible Bosses


For a lot of people work is murder – literally.


You know the unemployment rate has taken on a disproportionate place in our collective imagination when murdering a bad boss seems like a better option than trying to find another job, especially for white dudes. Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses is the latest in a rash of summer films illustrating the angst of white, middle class guys facing a slumping economy that not only dehumanizes them, but perhaps more importantly thwarts their ambition.


Nick (Jason Bateman) has been stuck in the same position for eight years. His fickle boss Harken (Kevin Spacey) is a cubical Caligula, mean to the core, sadistic and power hungry. But Nick still believes his hard work and sacrifice will be rewarded. He will get the corner office; will force Harken to admit his value to the company. Something snaps when Harken absorbs the position Nick had expected would be his. Nick confronts him, saying that he’ll quit and find another job, but Harken sneers at him, and says, “I can crush you anytime I want.”


Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is happy as a bean counter at his job at a chemical manufacturing plant working for a benevolent owner, even if he has to put up with his cokehead son Bobby played by Colin Farrell. The old man promises Kurt that someday he will be in charge, but it’s Bobby who takes over when his dad dies suddenly of a heart attack.


Bobby immediately begins issuing crazy proclamations: “Trim the fat,” he tells Kurt, explaining that he wants all the fat people in the office fired.


Both these men find themselves stuck in the middle of a mid-career slump that threatens to extend indefinitely. But their friend Dale (Charlie Day) is in an even worse situation. His boss isn’t some tin king, but a woman who demands that he give up the only thing that matters to him: his fidelity to his fiancé.


Dale spends his days fighting off his oversexed female boss’ advances. Dale is a dental assistant in Dr. Julia Harris’ (Jennifer Aniston’s) practice, where he mostly spends his days watching the good doctor play puppets with unconscious patients, forcing their limp hands up to cup her breasts or speaking into their underwear.


During a night out, the boys bond over war stories from their work and confess their deepest desires. “Who doesn’t dream of ways to kill his boss?” Kurt asks.  And the idea of murder seems rational in the current economy, where even hard working, educated white people like Nick are afraid that jumping boat to another company is tantamount to career suicide, since not only are there no other jobs out there, but people like Harken have the game rigged and can at any point give a negative recommendation to a future employer.


What follows is a typical montage of car crashes, misdirection, and gross-out humor of a very raunchy type. If the premise of the film is highbrow Hitchcock meets Office Space, the way the comedy plays out is pretty typical Hangover quality. This doesn’t mean it isn’t funny, but it never fully delivers on the promise of its script and mostly wastes excellent performances all around, most noticeably from the villains. Spacey, Farrell and Aniston are hilarious as power-hungry creeps, the sorts of boss archetypes we all know too well.


Horrible Bosses is more than anything else a slapstick deliberation on white middle-class male anxiety over work in an age where all the logic of the 20th century has gone out the window and the plight of the women in Nine to Five applies to all of us now. Funny, desperate, dark and raunchy, it’s the type of film that makes people chuckle nervously to themselves rather than think too hard about their own situations.


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