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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

June 12, 2009 at 10:30 AM

Movies on the job

Yesterday, I watched a movie in which Joan Allen’s character had a job which seemed to consist entirely of standing around while other people do the actual work of restoring historic artwork in old buildings. (The movie was “Hachiko: A Dog’s Story,” a weepie playing at SIFF, if you’re interested.) This seemed like a nice, lucrative job — she certainly dressed well, and lived in an enormous, stately home with her music-professor husband — and one that left her plenty of energy and free time. And it got me thinking about the idea of work in the movies; how so often jobs (which take up a huge amount of our waking time in real life) are treated by movies as a dismissible fantasy thing, sometimes to unintentionally comic effect.
Ever notice how young women in the movies, who usually have some sort of underling office job, live in adorably decorated apartments that an administrative assistant couldn’t possibly afford — and are never shown doing anything at work other than taking personal calls and having lunch? Or the way writers in the movies, like the hero of “Marley & Me” or Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” seem to effortlessly make a fortune while doing very little actual writing? Or the way attractive female executives (see Renee Zellweger in “New in Town,” and quite possibly Sandra Bullock in the upcoming “The Proposal”) prance around on their high heels and tight skirts and do . .. well, nothing? Or how people in the movies routinely have the kind of careers, like Allen’s in “Hachiko,” that seem a tad difficult to pull off in real life? I remember a Hilary Swank movie from a couple of years back in which she effortlessly transitioned from real estate agent to . . . wait for it. . . . shoe designer, and lived happily ever after.
Some movies, of course, tell the truth about jobs: “Office Space” comes immediately to mind. (Wearing your pieces of flair, anyone?) “State of Play,” recently, gave a fairly realistic view of working in a newsroom (I liked watching Russell Crowe type on an ancient computer; mine’s pretty old too). And in all the mad rush of forward motion that is “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” there’s a nice moment where Denzel Washington, a subway dispatcher, tells somebody on some unseen train how to flip a circuit breaker — it’s a bit that adds nothing to the action, but tells us that he knows how to do his job.
That being said, much as I love my work, I’m going to try to spend the next three days not doing it. I’ll be off Monday; back here Tuesday. Have a lovely weekend, all. Stay away from office printers, if you can.

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