Top Places to Work

The best movies about working

Ty Burr and Wesley Morris: Few films actually get it completely right.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Ty Burr and Wesley Morris: Few films actually get it completely right.

Once a week, in a video segment called Take 2, Boston Globe critics Ty Burr and Wesley Morris sit down together to dish about the movies they review. For Top Places to Work, we asked them to do a segment for us on how Hollywood portrays working.

Ty Burr We’re talking about movies about what it’s like to have a job and work with people.

Wesley Morris Either according to the movies, or according to life as captured by the movies. So along the second line, there are the movies of Frederick Wiseman.


Burr He’s been making documentaries where he just goes to a place; a hospital, a high school. He just films. The most recent is a Paris nude review, which is actually a fascinating movie about people who do this for work.

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Morris Even if you’re an exotic dancer, you’re also working.

Burr But that’s not how Hollywood conventionally thinks of workplace movies.

Morris Hollywood conventionally thinks of workplace movies as people going to an office and toiling either for a boss they don’t like. And the protagonist is smarter than everyone else.

Burr But victimized for that.


Morris And work is hell for that person.

Burr The archetype for the modern workplace movie is probably “The Apartment,’’ 1960. Jack Lemmon. All his bosses using his apartment for middle-of-the-day quickies. It’s also probably the first workplace comedy to have the very modern, acrid, cynical tone. It’s a very short line from “The Apartment’’ to “Office Space,’’ in terms of cubicle farms and everything. The soul-sucking reality.

Morris Depressing truth.

Burr Of working at a large firm.

Morris You are smarter than your boss. Your boss doesn’t even understand what it is you do. You yourself are trapped in something you don’t really quite understand. There’s a Kafkaesque element to some of these jobs.


Burr In none of this are we speaking personally.

Morris The personal aspect is why some work movies work, like “9 to 5.’’ It’s a good example of a farcical take on working, focused on sexism and feminism in the pre-1980s workspace.

Burr It’s the feminist “Apartment.’’

Morris Then you have a really bad example, like “Horrible Bosses.’’

Burr It thinks it’s a “9 to 5,’’ but has no reality. The people who made this movie have never worked in an office situation.

Morris There are things that you can tell are false because the people who made them have never had the actual jobs they’re writing about. You get very few movies about people who do the work that most of us do. You’ve got a lot of movies about journalists. “All the President’s Men’’ is a really good movie about working at a newspaper.

Burr “Up in the Air’’ is a very good modern workplace movie in that it takes place not in an office, but out in the world.

Morris In a weird way, it’s the most modern of work movies, in that it takes place in a time where people are no longer chained to their desks. And the people who are chained to their desks are going down in some sort of sinking ship.

Burr Right, and there’s been a lot of those recently. “The Company Men’’ is as sharp as “Up in the Air,’’ but still deals with this gnawing anxiety that you can hold on to your desk until you sink down with it.

Morris There’s always someone above you to tell you that you don’t need the job.

Burr You know what one of my favorite work movies is? “The Shop around the Corner.’’ It’s about what it’s like to work for people where you get to know everything about them without really sometimes wanting to. At the end of the day, they’re your family.

Morris That’s kind of what it’s like to work here.

Burr That’s it. I’m Ty Burr.

Morris I’m Wesley Morris.