White, Employed, Middle-Class Man's Lament: Horrible Bosses

There’s a scene in Horrible Bosses in which Jennifer Aniston, playing a dentist who habitually sexually harasses her weakling male hygienist (Charlie Day), repeatedly says the word “pussy.” Her character is trying to intimidate his, while the filmmakers attempt to shock the audience with the spectacle of this lady rom-com specialist—whose star persona is so beige that her name above the title on The Good Girlqualified as redundant—dropping slang for vagina. But it’s not shocking to hear an adult woman say “pussy” in an R-rated movie. What’s shocking is that this intimidation gambit works: Day’s Dale is so afraid of Aniston’s Julia, as both a professional superior and a sexual threat, that hearing her refer to her own intimate anatomy sends him into physical convulsions of revulsion.

Horrible Bosses, directed by Seth Gordon, is an ensemble comedy about how our tough economic times have destroyed white-collar, white-male masculinity. This is more or less the same subject taken on by Larry Crowne, the equally middling Tom Hanks film that opened last week, except that Hanks uses said financial crisis as a jumping-off point for an all-too-sunny exercise in inspirational wish fulfillment, where Gordon’s film fancies itself a blackly funny revenge fantasy.

Dale, painted as the helpless victim of a sexually hostile supervisor, is part of a troika of high school friends—also including chemical company accountant Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and unspecified corporate drone Nick (Jason Bateman)—who, at fortyish, are each facing intractable career obstacles. Kurt loves his job and his immediate boss––who promptly dies, leaving the company to his cokehead son (Colin Farrell, trying on an American accent that’s as glaringly fake as his prosthetic combover). Nick works for an asshole taskmaster (Kevin Spacey) who keeps dangling a promotion and then yanking it away when Nick fails to meet impossible standards. The three put-upon employees regularly meet for drinks to commiserate, and one night they have too many and decide that since the economy is so bad and they’re too afraid to actually quit and be left with nothing, the only way up the career ladder is to eliminate their bosses.

As Gordon (who previously helmed the arcade doc King of Kong and the Reese Witherspoon/Vince Vaughn–com Four Christmases) sleepwalks through the montages and set-pieces that will get our boys from drunken violent fantasy to clean-handed happy ending, the key “joke” becomes that these guys aren’t too upstanding to kill, but merely too chickenshit and incompetent. That, plus the fact that there's no indication that offing their current bosses will actually make these guys' lives any better, means that Horrible Bosses is missing the energy that would come from legitimate rage. In fact, there’s every sign that, even without these particular emasculators, Dale, Kurt and Nick would still be—for lack of a better word—total pussies.

The film’s three screenwriters include TV actor John Francis Daley, of House and Freaks and Geeks; Jonathan M. Goldstein, a writer/producer on the Shit My Dad Says sitcom; and Michael Markowitz, a producer on the post-Cheers Ted Danson vehicle Becker. This team’s credits speak volumes about Horrible Bosses’ tone and tenor. With its lazily sketched characters recalling the back half of an unremarkable episode of SNL, this is middling TV material, almost comforting in its bland predictability—the kind of stuff you want on the seat-back screen when there’s turbulence on a plane—but rarely actually laugh-out-loud funny, and never truly dark or daring. In this arid climate, the few zingers that land seem momentarily juicier than they really are. In a two-scene cameo, a knowing Jamie Foxx delivers the kind of minor pleasure you savor in a film that’s too often off-speed. Unfortunately, his character, an ex-con turned “murder consultant,” exists to offer a token acknowledgement of Dale, Kurt, and Nick’s knee-jerk racism, indicating that the filmmakers are expecting a pass for all the stereotypes they are serving up.

But there’s no such get-out-of-jail-free card for Horrible Bosses’ all-encompassing fear of sex—hetero and homo, consensual and otherwise. The only person who actually pursues it for pleasure is Kurt, and he’s presented as a letch who’s always taught a lesson (a sample line of dialogue: “Speaking of entrapment, I’m gonna go see that girl about her vagina”—which is the first half of an extremely vague, two-part reference to Good Will Hunting that’s commendable only for taking almost the entire film to resolve). In the film’s first lines, Nick cites his celibacy as a testament to professional commitment. Dale’s plot-line suggests that we live in a society that’s so twisted that innocent men are convicted as sex offenders, while actual “rapists” (a term frequently thrown around here, in reference to both women and men) are untouchable.

In fact, the specter of would-be powerful white dudes getting raped emerges in Horrible Bosses so often that it transcends subtext to become the film’s primary subject. On the film's continuum of emasculation, professional subordination is the midpoint, and sexual violation looms ahead as the dreaded final destination. What passes for comedy here doesn’t have a chance against a thesis so scary and sad.

 
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15 comments
Melissa Sullivan
Melissa Sullivan

Sorry, but Jen can't act her way out of a paper bag. Why do people continue to bring up Angelina anytime they try to defend Jen. Angie is much better looking then Jen.

Blueyedwoolf
Blueyedwoolf

John Francis Daley is more known for BONES than anything he might have done on House (of which I'm unsure as to what that would be). Just wanted to make this minor correction since I'm a huge Daley fan... and Bones for that matter;)

Jimmy Shelton
Jimmy Shelton

This film was terrific! Jennifer Aniston alone was worth the $10. I'll never understand the widespread animosity toward her. She's way more beautiful than Angelina Jolie ever was.This review is typical of The Village Voice. It implies that white men have no problems, white men can't be victims and white men have nothing to complain about — and that any film that portrays anything different is a lie. And look at the headline of the review. Only the far left wing would imply that being white, middle-class and employed are bad things. It's as if the only acceptable portrayal of white men is one in which they're ashamed of who they are. An all-minority cast is fine, but an all-white cast is racist. What a load of crap!As for racial stereotypes, Jamie Foxx's character actually knowing nothing about murder only shows the fallacy of those stereotypes.And these other people who have posted negative comments seem more like far-right-wingers, feeling sex and profanity and anything else that feels good must be bad. Why don't you go flog yourselves in church?Lighten up, people!

just turned 60
just turned 60

Total profane unfunny crap ... I am 60 and these words on screen are supposed to shock me and make me laugh ... Good grief ... See it .. done it ... been there ..

Williams Larry609
Williams Larry609

This movies had part of its name correct, it was absolutely Horrible! First time in my life I got up and left before it was half way into it to ask and receive my money back. A totally revolting movie. If people really believe this garbage is funny then our society has real problems.

Ladyluck83
Ladyluck83

Ugh sorry for all the freakin typos, I'm writing from my phone and it keeps plugging new words into my sentences. I should have proof read the comment before it posted but oh well. You get the drift - had high hopes but was ultimately disappointed.

Ladyluck83
Ladyluck83

Did not enjoy the movieat all. I was looking forward to seeing Charlie and hashing hopes but they plummeted soon agreeing movie started. Maybe different audiences have different reactions but the people in the theater I went to were hardly laughing spit must be hit or miss. I don't write reviews often either but I was so disappointed in this movie I had to chime in and agree with the critic and the bad reviews. To each his own.

JoeGreen28
JoeGreen28

Spot on review. Not one genuinely funny moment in this horrible movie which made me cringe throughout. One alleged joke after another misfired. Couldn't wait to get out of the theater and wash off.

tjl
tjl

I agree with the reviewer. This movie is half-baked television drivel. Kudos to Charlie Day and Jason Bateman for actually trying to make this movie decent, but shame on the rest of the lot.

Sjmdc03
Sjmdc03

You clearly are out of touch with your audience. Not only was the movie hilarious and "laugh out loud" funny throughout, but it was exactly what I was hoping it would be. That is rare for me. I am an avid film watcher and never comment or write reviews. I do read them on a weekly basis. You are usually so far off that it has become annoying to read your reviews. I will say that you are consistent and somehow seem to completely miss the point. I would say not to quit your day job, but I fear you like to hear yourself speak and may choose a career path that actually matters.

JW
JW

God... another "turn every topic into a social struggle study" writer who thinks she's a lot more original/smart than she is. Your review of Bad Teacher was much of the same; trying to connect dots that you want to be there. Newsflash: You're not that insightful.

Just stick to the movie review and leave the societal subtext manifesto to your Coffee Shop D'Angst hangout.

Kates254
Kates254

This is kind of hilarious, but you say John Francis Daley is of "House" fame.... He's on "Bones." I don't know if that's more an insult to JFD or House and Bones. (It's ok to insult House and Bones)

Andy
Andy

damn you hate everything

EamonDoyle
EamonDoyle

@Blueyedwoolf Yeah, he never appeared on HOUSE.

 

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