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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

entry arrow1:42 AM | Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Colin Higgins' 9 to 5 (1980)

I didn't particularly like Colin Higgins' 9 to 5 (1980) when I first saw it on VHS two decades ago, although I pretty much got what it wanted to accomplish: be a silly pseudo-feminist romp that's nothing more than cornball and a half, plus a catchy song. Based on an idea by co-star Jane Fonda, the film could be considered as the pathbreaking comedic turn to a string of films (Klute, Julia, The China Syndrome, The Electric Horseman) grounded by her famous feminist persona in the 1970s, an outspoken activism which earned her, among others, the nickname Hanoi Jane. Here, Ms. Fonda finally plays it mousy -- at first. And then we get the old persona back, a pastel version of it that allows her to mock and affirm her reputation at the same time. (Then again, one could also make a case of Ms. Fonda's evolving female personality through the decades -- from the quirky doll of the 1960s to the tough woman of the 1970s to the aerobics queen of the 1980s. That's a lot of shifts in public persona.)

The film, of course, was a tremendous success when it came out, and it continues to be in circulation, attesting to its longevity in pop culture. I'm not sure if the subject matter -- three office women connive on the comeuppance of a chauvinist pig boss -- have much to do with the film having legs (oops!), and for me, the ultimate magic that explains it is the easy chemistry of its cast, which explains its continuing significance. There's nothing much to this picture but Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton (and yes, Dabney Coleman) deliver sharp comic performances that are easy on the uptake, grounding their caricaturish characters with some fierce actorly gravity. We might as well crown the film as having given birth to a much-beloved (by me) comedic subgenre of "women taking revenge upon the men who wronged them," into which belongs such fun highlights (most of them starring Bette Midler) as The First Wives Club, She-Devil, and Outrageous Fortune. And, fine, The Other Woman.

But it's really just a silly romp, much of it a prolonged series of revenge fantasies that have not aged well. Consider Jane Fonda's hunting fantasies...

Or Dolly Parton's reverse sexual harassment fantasies that end with some strange cowgirlish wrangling...

Or Lily Tomlin's Snow White and a cup of rat poison fantasies...

There is a dated feel to these notions that almost mars the beautiful simplicity of the movie and shunts what ounce of feminism lite it has -- but then again I'm reading this with a 2015 consciousness on gender issues that may be the wrong framework to understand the humour of a 1980 film. So okay, then. What is my best shot? This one.

It's the fairy tale shot of all three female protagonists at the end of that prolonged revenge fantasy sequence, quickly reminding us not to take all these too seriously. It's just a band of modern princesses (decked in medieval wear) wanting their much-earned day in the sun, waving their hands from a castle they deserve to live in, away from the men who cannot even begin to give them their worth. It's a sweet shot, gauzy and in pastel. We smile, and we say, "Go, girls!" And we enjoy the film for its magnificently staged wackiness, and get a small pinkish twitch of enlightenment about gender equality.

This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience blog.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich