Meathead-management movies tap into workplace anxieties of the moment as well as eternal cubicle-drone angst
20th Century Fox
Incompetent authority figures appear to be having a moment at the multiplex. In just the past few weeks, we have seen the release of Bad Teacher, in which Cameron Diaz plays exactly that, and Larry Crowne, in which co-writer/director Tom Hanks also stars as the title character, suddenly and unjustly downsized by a fictional big-box retailer for his lack of a college degree. Another bluntly titled studio film, Horrible Bosses, arrives in theaters today. In the ensemble comedy, three men undertake a plot to snuff out their obnoxious and abusive superiors.
Not unlike a few recent films that touch on layoff anxiety, these movies seem designed to emit a zeitgeisty charge—dramatizing ruthlessness in the workplace as Americans increasingly must work more for less, and promising audiences a dose of anti-management catharsis. But that's not to say that difficult and deficient cinematic superiors are a new phenomenon. They have been slamming the doors of their corner offices—and needlessly upbraiding their honest, hardworking employees—for decades.
Many print- and broadcast-journalism films, from classic newspaper noirs to Sidney Lumet's indelible Network to Ron Howard's The Paper, feature notably merciless—and occasionally outright diabolical (see Scandal Sheet)—higher-ups, often with an eye too closely trained on the bottom line at the cost of quality content. Protagonists find themselves under the thumbs of heartless or unreasonably demanding superiors in notable contemporary fare like Glengarry Glen Ross, Office Space, and The Devil Wears Prada—the latter of which delivers the now quaint boom-times message that enduring the caprices of a spiteful VIP ultimately pays off with a golden-ticket letter of recommendation.