Corner Office | SLIFF 2022

Jon Hamm in Corner Office.

Orson (Jon Hamm) just started a new job as an office drone. He does his work fastidiously: 55 minutes of concentrated work, followed by a 5-minute break. From his very first moments, we learn he thinks he’s better than anyone else in his office and looks down on them in disdain. Then one day, he finds an unused office, back by the men’s room. It’s gorgeous inside—spacious, tasteful artwork, mahogany furniture, ample seating. At first, he just goes into the office to clear his head. Then one day, his frustrations with his deskmate Rakesh’s (Danny Pudi) sloppy desk boil over and he asks Rakesh into the office to discuss the issue. Orson feels more confident, more authoritative, and dresses down his colleague as if he were a well-meaning boss. Soon he starts spending more and more time in “the room” throughout his day, and calling more impromptu meetings there as if he’s the one in charge. The problem? According to his coworkers, the room doesn’t exist. And when Orson says he’s in the room, they say he’s just standing in the hallway, staring at a blank wall.

Based on the 2014 novel The Room by Swedish author Jonas Karlsson (name changed for the movie for obvious reasons), Corner Office is a delightfully weird black comedy skewering American corporate culture. Orson’s office building is a towering concrete structure, the pinnacle of office brutalist architecture. The company that employs Orson is called The Authority, Inc., and what they do is a complete mystery—the employees call customers, make reports, issue decisions, but what it is they actually make or sell or do is left completely unspecified. Orson’s entire orientation consists of Rakesh showing him where all the meticulously organized office supplies are kept. Located in a snowy clime, all employees are encouraged to “Think about the floor” and wear shoe protection, issued using a fascinating disposable bootie dispenser contraption that I really hope is a real thing.

All of this is presented in a kind of heightened reality, with Danish first-time feature director Joachim Back shooting his characters dramatically from below, lit by the flickering light of dying fluorescent bulbs. In this reality, Hamm’s handsome visage looks pallid and sweaty, his beaming smile hidden behind a bushy, geography teacher moustache, his bangs greasily hanging down over his forehead. His boss Andrew (Christopher Heyerdahl) is a bundle of anxious melodrama, and looks almost skeletal, with a trim Vincent Price-esque moustache. But then Orson goes into the room, the pallet changes to rich orangey browns, and everything changes for him: he stands up straighter, he has a better haircut, his stern, clipped manner of speaking becomes smoother and more commanding. It’s not quite right to call it dreamlike—instead, the normal office is such a fluorescent nightmare that the normal (if sort of fancy) office becomes a dream by comparison.

Hamm has his work cut out for him in this role. Orson from the jump is not supposed to be a particularly likeable fellow. Much of Orson’s speech is actually internal monologue, where Hamm has to use both his voice and his body language in two parallel performances, communicating his disdain of his coworkers to the viewer in one while failing to adequately hide that disdain from his coworkers in the other. He has to dial that Don Draper charm down to zero to come off as the office weirdo, a weirdness that only gets amplified as his paranoia increases. It’s a lot to handle but he nails all of it.

Corner Office is a wonderfully weird movie that stretches its premise further than it would seem possible and keeps you in a pleasantly baffled state of confusion as to the nature of reality until the very final moment. Its pokes at life as an office drone are spot on, particularly how Back (an Oscar winner for his 2009 short The New Tenants) amplifies the ridiculousness of the unimportant minutiae that people decide to get worked up about. While it’s definitely not for everybody due to its strange tone and meandering pacing, I found it to be a fascinating watch. | Jason Green

Corner Office will screen at Galleria 6 Cinemas (30 St. Louis Galleria St., Richmond Heights) on Monday, November 7th at 6:45pm as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival with an appearance from producers Matt Clarke and Dylan Collingwood. Further information about tickets, passes, forms of access, and the complete film lineup is available from the SLIFF website.

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