Today is the first day at her new job for Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) and she is understandably nervous about how things will work out, but she needed to go back to work after her divorce. She is entrusted to Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) who usually takes care of the training of new staff, even though she feels she deserves better particularly in light of her current boss, Franklin M. Hart (Dabney Coleman), who was promoted above her even though she trained him. She is a cynic due to the office politics she has to put up with, but at least she has it better than Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton)...
Not that Doralee knows it, but everyone in the office thinks she is having an affair with Hart, thanks to him liberally spreading that rumour around. You'll have gathered by the first ten minutes of Nine to Five that this is not going to be too sympathetic to bosses who ride roughshod over their underlings, and is fully on the side of female workers who had to put up with all sorts of horrendous sexism which Hart encapsulates in one sleazy, bullying package. This undoubtedly struck a nerve in audiences of the early eighties feeling the effects of increased equality in the workplace but not feeling it had gone far enough.
Leading it to become a huge hit, then somewhat consigned to movie yesteryear until its catchy theme song, written and sung by Parton, enjoyed a revival sparked by its ironic inclusion on the popular mix album by 2 Many DJs, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Part 2. After the right trendmakers caught onto what a jolly little tune this was, soon you couldn't escape Dolly trilling it on a works night out, stuck on jukeboxes across the world as a pop feminist anthem for the working woman. But what of the movie, did that deserve similar reappraisal and welcoming into the fold of pop culture favourites or was it the type of work stuck with that dreaded word, "dated"? The answer was that perhaps it wasn't that great in the first place.
It starts out promisingly enough, yet not all that hilariously, with only Tomlin securing some decent quips, but the premise of three women frustrated by their job environment is a solid one, and Hart is set up as such a despicable conniver and lech that they had an excellent foil for them to battle against. Coleman played his bad guy role to the hilt, whether taking opportunities to exploit his female staff either by ogling them or ordering them to make him cups of coffee, or more seriously taking their ideas as his own and firing those who he doesn't think cut the mustard when they really need the job and what they're dismissed for was not a sackable offence. It's plain to see something must be done.
So far so good, or acceptably entertaining anyway, but after our three heroines settle down to talk through their problems over a joint, something odd happens to the story. Fair enough, we get to see their fantasies about how they would dispose of their boss, with Judy hunting him down like a wild animal, Doralee intimidating him and finally hogtying him, and Violet turning Snow White to eject him from the 12th floor window, but after that it's as if these capable, intelligent women were too much for the screenwriters and they don't so much outsmart Hart as outstupid him. Suddenly they are bumbling around, making daft mistakes and blundering into the solution to their problem instead of using their wits to improve their lot. They do eventually prove they could do a better job of running things than Hart, but don't be surprised if you've lost a little faith in them after seeing their antics. Music by Charles Fox.