Title: Horrible Bosses
Year of Release: 2011
Date Viewed: September 7th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
In his cynical book of advice for high school graduates, author Charles J. Sykes warned "If you think your teacher is tough, wait til' you get a boss."
Perhaps it's simply due to very good fortune but I cannot relate to that sentiment at all. Having so far been employed by four different companies, I have never worked under a supervisor or even a regional manager that came from Hell's gate like so many Generation X adults groomed me to expect. I think the real difference between a company leader and a teacher is that teaching jobs are more frequently a secondary career choice. It's rare but a treasurable thing to find a teacher who is motivated beyond the paycheck. Business leaders (the non-corrupt kind) take pride in creating/expanding jobs and/or ideas. The best leaders recognize the value in human labor and how the happiest workers are also usually the most productive ones.
We don't see any of those people in Horrible Bosses. It's a movie about exactly what the title promises. The sociopathic type of leaders who only care about the bottom line revenue. The type who take pleasure in exercising power purely for personal amusement. The type who enjoy breaking their employees' spirits. The type that everyone except me (*knocks on wood*) has experienced.
Three protagonists are stuck under the watchful eye of employers so nightmarish that it drives them into a breaking point territory that they never before considered; a plot to have them all murdered.
Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) has possibly the slimiest and most sadistic boss in town; Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey.) Dave has spent eight years teasing a promotion endorsement for Nick but enjoys humiliating him too much to carry through with it. He forces him to work sixteen-hour days even during family emergencies and at one point berates him for arriving two minutes late to work. Nick wants to quit and find other work but realizes he'll never receive a positive recommendation from Dave.
Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is engaged to be married but operates under a female boss (Jennifer Aniston) who wants him for herself. Days are filled with sexual harassment and blackmail. Dale is stuck between a rock and a hard place because his status as a registered sex offender makes finding alternative employment ultra difficult.
Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) likes his job and his boss....until he dies of a sudden heart attack. The office building is now operated by the proprietor's son Bobby (Colin Farrell); a cocaine addict and all-around rude person. Kurt's job more or less remains the same but he can't help but worry about the longevity.
The plot outline could be ripe for a serious drama. A vehicle for exploring middle class dark fantasies. But as the self-aware script points out, that had already been done before in Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma from the Train. The situations are driven for laughs sourced from the protagonists repeatedly failing to get any quality plan off the ground. Short-sighted stupidity, cruel fate and sometimes even the bosses themselves roadblock any chance for a body count. Even the assassin for hire (Jamie Foxx) ends up falling short of his reputation.
With the exception of Jennifer Aniston, all the aforementioned actors are hired to perform the routines they're best known for. That's actually a high compliment for Aniston because she has finally found something worthwhile to do outside of the stale rom-com genre. I feel some guilt saying that because truthfully the role is less than flattering and could be viewed as a step backward for feminism. Hopefully it serves as the start of a trend of selecting more interesting projects instead of a new typecast.
Horrible Bosses' humor is the zany over-the-top kind that requires the viewer to be at least mildly crazy to appreciate. But if you're already willing to root for people that advocate murder, that shouldn't be a problem, especially if the villains seem capable of doing far worse. Kevin Spacey practically makes a living off playing unpredictable characters that makes you wonder when exactly their lives jumped the shark. This isn't to imply laziness but Dave Harken is a role that Spacey can probably do while sleepwalking. He's had enough practice. Yet his master timing is still able to provide more than a few memorable "Did he really just do that?" moments. Much of the contrasting lighter humor comes from television favorite Charlie Day, especially when the script calls for his character to erupt in full-blown panic mode; a skill that Day has mastered to perfection.
The next work shift following my viewing of the film, I brought it up in a conversation with my own boss who is probably even more down-to-Earth than I am. Although I had already thought highly of him, I made sure to communicate how much the film helped me appreciate his leadership and validate my belief that the world would probably be a better place if everyone followed his example. It was that conversation that helped me realize why my boss had such an easy-going personality. He had worked under some of those fabled Generation X sociopaths who gave business leaders that intimidating aura. Thus he understood why superiority complexes were pointless. I was afraid to ask how many of them were still alive.