Corporate paranoia ticks in 'Clockwatchers'

July 24, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Think of "In the Company of Men" from the other side of the reflecting glass, a haunting paeon to anti-careerism, a brilliant ensemble piece that shows how ensembles, especially of women, splinter and fall apart, and you get some idea of "Clockwatchers."

Toni Collette plays Iris, a recent college grad who is being pressured into becoming a salesperson by her salesman father. But, instead, she signs on to be a temporary worker, and we meet her on her first day on the job at Global Credit, one of those faceless behemoths that seem to do nothing but produce paper and put it into different files and piles.

Among Iris' sister filers and pilers: Margaret (Parker Posey), the knowing, cynical Eve Arden of the group; Paula (Lisa Kudrow), a would-be actress bent on sabotaging the copier so she can flirt with the repairman; and Jane (Alanna Ubach), a wide-eyed, neurotic bride-to-be who is marking time until her fiance whisks her to suburbia.

Made with great intelligence and careful attention to visual detail and tonal shifts, "Clockwatchers" isn't as much a black comedy as a bleak comedy.

It starts out being a female bonding movie as these lowest-of-the-corporate-lowly find solidarity in their disenfranchisement, nicking office supplies and subtly subverting their superiors. But when Margaret is passed over for promotion to a "permanent," the tenor of their endless days begins to shift. More than paper clips go missing from the office, and soon the four friends are caught in a web of Kafka-esque paranoia.

"Clockwatchers" has a terrific, submerged feel, in keeping with its themes of corporate lassitude, isolation and paranoia.

Sprecher has a fine hand with the shifting emotional tectonics of the story, which benefits from an inventively Bauhaus-like production design by Pamela Marcotte. The humor doesn't come from jokes or sight gags, but from the absurdities of office life and the fishbowl existence of corporate drones, whose personal soundtrack is a Muzak version of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

In fact, fishbowls recur as a theme throughout "Clockwatchers," whether as visual cues or through Sprecher's camera, which photographs the compulsives, fetishists and kleptomaniacs of General Credit as if they were floating by like so many neurotic goldfish.

As accomplished as "Clockwatchers" is as a production, it is primarily a showcase for strong performances by four outstanding actresses, especially Posey -- who seems never to have an off-day -- and Kudrow, whose success in prime-time TV seems guaranteed to cross over into film.

'Clockwatchers'

Starring Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach

Directed by Jill Sprecher

Released by Artistic License

Rated PG-13 (brief language)

Running time 96 minutes

Sun score ***

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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