This is another of those cultural touchstone movies that I somehow failed to see back in the day. Thirty-five years later, I finally gave it a watch, and I have to say that it's pretty good. It's fairly predictable, and the humor is broad, but writer/director Collin Higgins (“Harold and Maude”) gives the movie something that makes it stand out from the other silly comedies of its time.
In the very first scene, “9 to 5” let's you know that it intends to be more than just a dumb comedy. Rather than immediately introducing the stars, Higgins shows a montage of a variety of women hustling through the streets of New York to get to their jobs. I found that poignant, like he was dedicating the film to all working women.
Then we meet Violet, a low-level supervisor at the Consolidated Company. She is smart and competent, but she can't break through the glass ceiling at Consolidated, because the men she trains keep getting promoted ahead of her. This includes Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), an egotistical, sexist jerk who takes credit for Violet's good ideas and sexually harasses his secretary, Doralee (Dolly Parton). Jane Fonda plays Judy, a recent divorcee new to the workforce. These women bear, as best they can, the indignities of working under Hart, but they share with each other their fantasies of doing him in. When one of these fantasies comes true, things get wacky.
“9 to 5” succeeds because it has a genuine social message packaged as comedy. The film got its start as a project of Jane Fonda's production company. The movie was originally to be a drama, but Fonda and her team found it too preachy, so they switched gears to comedy. The humor lightens up the mood surrounding serious issue like sexual harassment and equal pay for women. The movie gets in some biting satire, as when Doralee fantasizes about forcing Hart to endure the constant pawing and innuendo that he subjects her to. There's nothing like a little role reversal to show how messed-up a situation is.
The years have lent some bitter irony to this film. Violet manages to get a policy of equal pay for equal work instituted. The male executives mutter to themselves that that is a step too far and that they will have to reverse the policy. The joke was simple satire in 1980, but I'll bet the filmmakers didn't think that this would still be an issue 35 years later.
3 stars out of 5