This week in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, the wonderful Nathaniel from The Film Experience made us watch the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, which turned out to be a much more subversive movie than I had anticipated. And I was, in fact, anticipating a light farce with flashes of second wave feminism ideology. I just didn’t think the movie would be so clever and daring when it came to turning these women’s fantasies of standing up to their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss into reality.
9 to 5 star the golden triumvirate of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton (in her acting debut). For the most part, the movie looks like your standard early eighties movie. The one sequences (or sequences) that stand out visually -and from which I picked my Best Shot- come in the form of three fantasies in which the ladies, one by one, dream about how exactly what they would do to their boss if they had the opportunity to give him a taste of his medicine. These are all funny sequences, but the brilliance comes in that the fantasy element allows the filmmakers to literalize some of the more abstract ideas of feminist theory and connecting them to pop culture.
Thus, the first fantasy sequence has Jane Fonda hunting down the boss with a loaded rifle, casting actor Dabney Coleman in the role of victim that is usually reserved for young teenagers in slasher films. The second, and most overtly feminist of the three, has Dolly Parton riding in on horseback into an office where Coleman is her secretary, and Dolly gets to say and do all the kind of sexist shit that female subordinates have had to put up with all these years. You know, the kind of sexist shit that a cowboy would say.
My Best Shot comes from the third sequence, in which Lily Tomlin casts herself as Snow White -the Disney Princess being one of the quintessential images of conservative womanhood- and gets help from cartoon woodland creatures to put poison in Coleman’s coffee. It’s not as overtly violent as the other fantasies, but it points out at the ingenuity with which women have used their bodies and behavior in order to get their way. It’s weirdly empowering to see a Princess -that acts unequivocally like a “good” Princess- use her charm to kill a man. And because I’m a sucker for acknowledging the fourth wall, my favorite shot comes when Tomlin looks at the camera as if offering the coffee to the audience. Yes, she’s talking to you guy watching and enjoying this movie. Have you thought that maybe you might be a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot?