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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Clockwatchers

Starring: Toni Collette, Parker Posey
Director: Jill Sprecher
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach, Helen Fitzgerald, Stanley DeSantis, Jamie Kennedy, David James Elliott, Debra Jo Rupp, Kevin Cooney

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As Michael Moore points out so incisively in his documentary "The Big One," greedy corporations will do anything to amass profits. Even companies on a roll thanks to the faithful toil of their workers will throw their hirelings to the wolves if doing so will garner more specie for the stockholders. "Clockwatchers," neither as flat-out hilarious as "The Big One" nor as lacerating, treats the dilemma of downsizing in a more heartfelt way. In Jill Sprecher's sincere motion picture, educated women are unable to find permanent jobs, implicitly because American companies prefer to hire temporary workers in order to avoid paying benefits. These temps are kept on simply because the enterprises who hire them can get away with doing so. What had been during the 1950s simply a small sector of the economy has now become almost a norm. Lower-level workers are anonymous and dispensable, shunned as pariahs and as people of little consequence by their colleagues who are "permanent" as well as by the executives who exploit them.

Obviously, their low status on the corporate totem pole is going to have effects on the temps' character. Jill and Karen Sprecher have captured the consequence of company policy so well that they've either done their homework or have been temps themselves. The Sprechers are not so doctrinaire that they blame the economy for every blemish in the employees' make-up: they are more interested in providing us with three- dimensional portraits of four particular women working for a large credit firm, women who even without the abuse they abide are quirky gals and therefore thoroughly entertaining.

Take Iris (Toni Collette), for example. Here's a young woman whose flaws were likely present long before she took on a job as a temporary worker. Not so much announcing her presence at her new assignment as skulking into the post, she acts like a scared deer gazing in terror at the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck. Asked to have a seat while the manager is fetched, she remains hunched over in a chair for two hours before the appropriate person greets her with astonishment: "Why didn't you tell me you were here?" Luckily, she is befriended by the office extrovert, Margaret (Parker Posey), who steals the movie from that point. Margaret shows her the ropes. If a client phones, she may simply hang up ("If its' important he'll call back") or gives him advice on buying and selling as though she were really instructed by an executive to do so: ("He says go ahead an sell"). Jane (Alanna Ubach), yet another temp, whines that nobody mixes with her kind or tells her anything of importance, illustrating her gripe by an experience she had while working at a bank: "There was this button on the desk and I kept looking at it every day for a month and finally I just pushed it. It was the alarm." Paula (Lisa Kudrow) lives a fantasy, allegedly going to auditions and telling her co-workers that she's a temp only until she gets the starring role she deserves in a movie.

Aside from this clearly differentiated quartet, director Sprecher hones in on familiar office types such as the anal- retentive supplies person who seems to develop stomach pains when he has to issue a pencil; the suave and handsome junior exec who looks right through the women who help him out and seems never to learn their names; the efficient office manager who chirps instructions on how to arrange the papers on the desk for maximum neatness; the CEO who baldly insists that everyone in the office is like family.

The movie gets its name from the principal activity of the officer workers, which is to stare at the big wall timepiece with the passion of fourth-graders eager to get out of school and watch the Jerry Springer show. While we in the audience are unlikely to gaze at our own watches, we do become aware of the passage of time during the second half of the movie, when a contrived element is introduced into the plot. A series of thefts puts the office on security alert, making the daily grind at once more exciting and more strained. Naturally everyone concludes that the temps--who have no roots in the job--are the culprits. What should have been a passing plot point changes the focus of the movie, which begins to lose its comic good will.

Sprecher never really goes for the throat the way Michael Moore does in "Roger and Me" and in "The Big One," but her laid-back and frequently mirthful film serves as a gentle warning on the way our society is headed. The dissolution of the bonds connecting labor and management may lead to higher profits, at least in the short run. But what sort of country will we have as wealth continues to become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and the majority of the population are as alienated as Karl Marx's proverbial proletariat?

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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