Forgive me, dear readers, but I have to make my contribution to this week’s edition of Hit Me with Your Best Shot a short one. It’s One Of Those Days.
Our subject, selected as always by the kind and good Nathaniel R, is the classic anarcho-feminist comedy Nine to Five (or 9 to 5, I’m never clear which is the more “official” title), in which three hard working women played by the once-in-a-lifetime trio of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton (who contributed the title number, one of the best songs to ever lose the Best Song Oscar) decide they’ve had enough of their bullying, condescending sexist prick of a boss (played, quite inevitably for 1980, by Dabney Coleman), and so they tie him up in his house and run the office in his absence. There’s more to it than that, but even though this development occurs rather more than halfway through the movie, it’s the thing everybody knows about it, so it seems fair enough for a précis.
All the attention usually goes – and fairly – to the film’s role in the burgeoning Power to the Working Woman genre, and the three widely varied characterisations and performances of the protagonists. It’s clearly slanted to encourage our viewing it through that lens: this was the era that “anything a man can do, a woman can do better” feminism was at its peak, and Nine to Five is one of the most iconic triumphs of that belief in pop culture.
But not wishing to be enormously obvious, I found myself gravitating towards the film’s other inversion of traditional gender roles, the one that never gets talked about, because Coleman’s Franklin Hart is such an un-nuanced gargoyle. Still, it’s worth pointing out that as the three women in the movie take over the customary male role of decision making and office managing, the male villain is thrust into the role of a stay-at-home woman, literally tied down to his house. And that leads, at a certain point, to this delightful visual gag.
By this point, the film has already exploded traditional girly fantasies from the inside in the form of a marvelous series of sardonic dream sequences; it doesn’t espouse a particular attitude about soap operas, but it’s not hard to assume that it would be balled up with all the other things used to keep women docile and bored, and happily discarded. Or, in this case, left to rot a man’s brains for a little while, as he learns firsthand how shabbily he and people like him have been treating 51% of the population for his entire life. And Coleman’s resigned slumped posture just sells it that much more: he’s not even miserable and angry anymore, he’s just stuck in the house, watching his stories because there’s nothing else for him to do. This obvious lesson is wasted on the character, but the punchy, perfectly-timed visual joke makes it impossible for us in the audience to fail to see and appreciate the irony.