I have a terrible terrible just awful confession to make, dear readers. I hope you'll find forgiveness in your hearts as it will surely sound like blasphemy. My favorite performance in the classic lady comedy Nine to Five (1980) belongs to Dabney Coleman. Yes, the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot himself. "The Man," in Nine to Five in both the symbolic and the literal sense. But he's superbly funny in this beloved comedy, completely committed to his grossly entitled and just awful boss person whose demise his underlings fantasize about. Can you blame them?
Coleman is even better when his characterization morphs into Looney Tunes caricature in the fantasy sequences, when he gets personality transplants, sweating and terrified, humbled and guilty, or shy and objectified. If haven't thrown your internet device aside in total disgust at my betrayal, you should click to continue so that we may pick a Best Shot...
Despite my love for Coleman's performance, which I honestly feel should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor of 1980 (but Oscar rarely knows what to do with comedy), I shan't give him the honor of Best Shot though if I did it would be one of these two images below, either the beautiful switcheroo of abject terror in Dolly Parton's previously lusted after bosom (in an atypical extreme closeup) or the totally bizarre tableau where he's put a trash can on his head (camouflage!) and runs back and forth by the desks hoping to avoid shotgun blasts.
At this point we've entered a completely different movie, one that takes place in a disorienting corporate surreality that is half Brazil and half Looney Tunes and half Twisted Fairy Tale. (That's three halves, shut up.)
To the movie's visual credit (which is not something you can say too often as its a fairly standard movie visually speaking) this disorienting blank dehumanized world of interchangeable cubicles and empty hallways and paper slot walls and noisy machines with a mind of their own gets a bit of foreshadowing in Judy's (Jane Fonda) xerox machine slapstick sequence with papers in various colors flying all around her, their meaning and purpose lost in the chaos - and never important to begin with.
I wanted to choose an image of the trio of workers in solidarity together for my best shot but could never settle on the perfect one. It's amazing how those round 80s helmet hairdos actually block out entire movie star faces at times! And the movie isn't always carefully shot though there are beautifully lit moments by cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos most notably the bar sequence when the women become friends and their nighttime hijinx with the dead body. The best thing about Judy (Jane Fonda) and Violet (Lily Tomlin) separately and in tandem (and to a lesser extent Dolly Parton's Doralee, though she's much less "busy" a performer) is all the fussy / funny physical mannerisms in their performances and the enviably natural chemistry. But it's rare to see all of that happening in the same frame. The best example of their combined performances isn't in a single image but in a great continuous shot where they first realize that their boss is alive as he strolls by Judy (cue book drop, backwards teetering), Violet (hands and papers go flying in the air) and finally passes Doralee, open-mouthed, into his lair. But that's not a single image even if it ends in this lovely way, with Doralee so beautifully framed in orange.
So while this will surely read as anti-climactic (must be less longwinded - especially when dealing with comedy which is always better when it's tighter) I think my best shot selection is Violet alone. Lily Tomlin is super in the movie as the most capable and most frustrated of the trampled-on workers. And while she's very winky funny in her Snow White sequence, she's best in her harried or impulsive moments, like accepting a doobie from her son, or that A+ line reading.
I'm no fool. I killed the boss you don't think they're going to fire me for a thing like that?"
...or that ridiculous corpse-pushing through the hospital.
Though a few of the movie's jokes haven't aged well -- firearms at work? Yikes -- most of it still plays beautifully. The director misses a great sight gag opportunity when Violet takes the corpse outside past a window where Judy & Doralee haven't yet realized what's happening (pairing them in a frame would've been hilarious but instead we get a shot / reverse shot) but sometimes the gags are just right. Note that this moment is shot from just a low enough angle that it reads visually like those comedy routines where two people are playing different halves of the same body. The shot is funny but it's also emblematic of the movies sometimes grim humor which is easy to stomach because it's married so enthusiastically with utter silliness. The matchmaker between the two is the momentum of perpetual panic from endearingly game actresses.
Continue on to - The Best Shot Party with Nine To Five choices from other blogs
Next Week - Jane Campion's Bright Star (2009)