Hey, it’s BlockBluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart find out during what sorts of movies regular people all over the country are plotting bossicide. This week they want to fire director Seth Gordon over his Horrible Bosses.
Where to begin with the horrible, horrible Horrible Bosses, Henry? Perhaps with its lowest-common-denominator faux-populism, which posits WASP cretins Nick, Dale and Kurt (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, respectively) as poor schmucks getting fucked in increasingly maniacal (and potentially literal) ways by their evil employers. Each has a reason not to quit: Kurt, assistant to a sexually abusive dentist (Jennifer Aniston), became a registered sex offender when he was caught peeing in a deserted playground at night and fears nobody else will hire him; chemical company accountant Dale worries his mentor’s coke-addicted son (Colin Farrell) will run the firm into the ground; Nick believes his masochistic boss (Kevin Spacey) is going to promote him after one last round of brutal trials. And just to put the job market more plainly in dude comedy terms, the trio is approached by a former classmate and one-time Lehmann Brothers employee at a bar, who complains of being without work since the company’s collapse before offering them all handjobs for cash. Shit, Henry, unemployment really must suck!
But unlike, say, The Other Guys, these assholes’ scheme to escape their dire predicaments facilitates exponentially more reprehensible behavior than their bosses’ horrible actions. It’s like the Hangover franchise, except the enabling factors here aren’t drugs and alcohol, but entitlement and infantilism. Heck, writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein even have the audacity to liken their lame murder-trading story to Strangers on a Train! What most offended you about Horrible Bosses, Henry?
Well, Ben, this movie did have a lot in common with that Alfred Hitchcock movie with Danny DeVito. But, hey, wouldn’t it have been a million times better if it had been about kids trying to kill their teachers? Imagine, it’s called Bad Teachers (oh, wait), and instead of a sexy dentist you have an assaultive nun, etc. etc. I mean, these characters were just little kids in big-kid bodies, right? Playing at murder helplessly and ignorantly, armed only with knowledge from Law and Order reruns, the same way they play at everything in their lives: sex (it’s pretty good!!), work (it’s hard!!). I wouldn’t be surprised if the script had been rewritten to turn the characters from boys to men. Written as adults, they become an archetype, The Suburban Schmuck, multiplied by three. What a resilient cliche; I remember it from the television commercials of my youth, when some poor schlub couldn’t program the time on his VCR! But if I had to pick one offensive element above all others? Geez, I’d probably go with the laziness of the writing. Jamie Foxx has those three scenes as a contracted “murder consultant,” and the gag seems to be that he’s like a script doctor—overpaid for his pat insights. But he’s also a deus ex machina; at every act break, the characters run to him and he tells them how to proceed: why not break into all your targets’ homes? Or try to blackmail your boss (even though it’s obvious that the time has come to call the police)? Oh, speaking of Jamie Foxx, what’d you make of the way the movie handled its heroes’ whiteness?
To say the movie “handled” the trio’s whiteness seems a bit generous, Henry. Aside from those scenes in which they go to the one bar in L.A. where all the black men (presumed criminals) hang out, Horrible Bosses‘ grating white-collar whiteness goes essentially unacknowledged and uncontested. It made me yearn for that classic of boss-hating cinema, Office Space, whose heroes alleviate their feelings of social impotence by listening to hip-hop. This film’s horrible employees live in a fantasy Los Angeles where there are no Latinos, and only one black guy who, in any case, is a parody of a stereotype. In fact, this movie’s whiteness is so all-enveloping that it becomes absurd and suspect, not unlike its overwhelming masculinity. Aside from Jennifer Aniston’s dentist—a male fantasy of workplace sexual harassment—there isn’t a female character to speak of—unless you count Kevin Spacey’s adulterous wife. What do you think, Henry, is Horrible Bosses‘ treatment of gender as offensive and backwards as its portrayal of racial difference?
Yes, absolutely! As you note Ben, there are two female characters, and both are villains for their sexuality: one uses it to betray her husband, the other to harass her underlings. Did you notice that among the bad bosses there is a murderer, a drug-addicted destroyer of South American populations, and a sexual woman? But she is bad, isn’t she? Although Dale (Charlie Day) should be happy to have such a hot boss who wants to do him, as his friends repeatedly make clear. But he won’t, because he loves his fiance—oh, another female character! Who we hardly ever see, because Dale spends his time between work and the bar at which he hangs with his guy friends—and because, obvs, he’s a wuss. (Day, then, is excellent casting, because his endless, high-pitched complaining sounds like the feature-length chirpings of an inconsolable baby bird.) I kept thinking Kurt was a real pussy because he wouldn’t tell his fiance that his crazy boss was threatening him. But this movie doesn’t have a very sophisticated understanding of marriage and grown-up relationships, which I suspect is why its stray Dean Jones reference (wha??) is to his work in The Love Bug and not, say, as the lead in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.