Year:  2022

Director:  Camille Hardman, Gary Lane

Release:  April 2, 2023

Running time: 96 minutes

Worth: $12.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman, Bruce Gilbert, Rita Moreno, Patricia Resnick

... reminds us why the film is as relevant today as it was when it lit up the box office four decades ago.

Still Working 9 to 5 is a documentary made by director/producer Camille Hardman and Gary Lane that traces the impact of a popular comedy film on society, right up to the recent #MeToo viral social movement that encourages women to speak up about sexual harassment.

9 to 5 was released in December 1980, and is still regarded as a landmark feminist film. Co-written by Patricia Resnick (Mad Men), writer/director Colin Higgins (of Harold and Maude writing fame) crafted a fun-filled entertainment that was inspired by stories of women’s experiences in the workplace and the classic female-driven screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. For their farcical yet truthful comedy, the writers deftly interpreted many of the significant issues of the preceding decade’s Women’s Liberation Movement.

It was rare to see a major movie release focusing on three female characters, played by comedian Lily Tomlin, movie-star Jane Fonda (who co-produced) and singer/songwriter Dolly Parton in her first major screen performance. Being the first female-dominated film to gross $100 million dollars in Hollywood history, it’s only fitting that the movie’s impact be given the documentary evaluation treatment.

In the original film, Dabney Coleman plays Franklin Hart, an office boss who treats the secretaries poorly. Dubbed the biggest “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” on the planet, he delights in humiliating and condescending his female office staff, especially his main assistant Violet (Lily Tomlin). Tomlin is especially fantastic, a 12-year ‘team player’ who keeps getting passed over for promotion. Pushed to tipping point, Violet, aided by co-workers Doralee (Dolly Parton) and Judy (Jane Fonda) join forces to right the many wrongs.

The story has a lot of fun with illustrating all the murderous fantasies of the women and the creative ways they dream up to eliminate their boss. The pot-induced fantasy sequences seem fairly racy by today’s stitched-up content standards; this movie would not be granted a PG rating today.

For her acting debut, Parton reveals how she agreed to appear in the movie provided she got to write and sing the title song, which she did. The country-tinged tune “Nine to Five” became a popular hit, and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award and won two Grammys. The catchy theme song was even adopted as an anthem by the Women’s Liberation movement.

The problem with the documentary is that its intention of contextualizing the impact of the movie’s release is too slim a premise to sustain an hour and 40 minutes examination. The resulting film is unfocused and sometimes repetitive.

The doco shifts gears halfway through to focus on the developments of the Equal Rights Movement (ERA) of the early to mid-seventies, which benefitted from the timely release of the popular feminist comedy, becoming a full-scale movement.

Still Working 9 to 5 shows interviews and vox pops from the late seventies time period. Some interviews include minutiae such as costume decisions made by designer Ann Roth. We also see some of the scenes about sexual harassment that ended up being cut out for being too cringeworthy. But the scenes that stayed in were reflective of women’s daily experiences.

A friend of Fonda’s had started an organisation in Boston called “9-to-5,” which was an association of women office workers, advocating for equal pay for equal work, with a rousing motto of “Raises, rights and respect.” The concept for the film rose out of the women’s movement and Fonda’s close friendship with fellow activist Karen Nussbaum and how, in 1973, Karen, along with her friend Ellen Cassedy, established the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women, after experiencing many workplace indignities.

Cassedy observes, “Those stereotypes really seeped into women’s consciousness. It took a while for women to really examine that and say, ‘is that really me? Am I the office girl or am I a working woman who deserves to be taken seriously?’”

Recalls Fonda, “Back when we made 9 to 5 in the late seventies, women earned less than 60 cents to the dollar that men would earn doing the same work. And it wasn’t easy for women to talk about money. We wanted to show how biased the system is against women.”

The documentary also charts how the success of the original film gave birth to several 9 to 5 incarnations over the decades. The TV version during the 1980s lasted 85 episodes and starred the Emmy-nominated Rita Moreno, Rachel Dennison (Dolly’s sister), Valerie Curtin, and Sally Struthers.

We discover that although the 9 to 5 Association was originally involved in the development of the TV series, they became disillusioned with its deviation from the core message of female empowerment, and felt it had become just another silly sitcom. In 2009, 9 to 5, The Musical opened on Broadway with an all-star cast including Allison Janney, closing after only five months, but travelling the world since, including currently playing around Australia.

Still Working 9 to 5 examines the correlation between what the original film began as – a cultural inflection point – and the subsequent evolution of the women’s movement. The film 9 to 5 continues to resonate as a touchstone of classic feminist entertainment and inspiration. Still Working 9 to 5 reminds us why the film is as relevant today as it was when it lit up the box office four decades ago.


Leave a Reply