Besides being extremely funny and rather well-acted, Nine to Five has a lot of narrative problems. The story isn’t a mess exactly, because there’s not enough story for there to be a mess. Higgins and co-writer Patricia Resnick have an idea (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin are suffering secretaries) and not much else.
Fonda’s technically the star as her subplot has some drama and gets resolution with the son of a bitch ex-husband. Parton and Tomlin have lives outside the film’s main plot, but they aren’t part of the film. Parton gets two scenes, Tomlin only one. Higgins and Resnick get a lot of mileage out of those scenes–both for Chekhov’s gun or just texture for the characters.
Parton’s surprisingly appealing, Fonda’s good and Tomlin’s just great. But none of them are anywhere near as good as Dabney Coleman as their heinous boss. He manages to be equal parts familiar, odious and hilarious. Sadly, although the film’s thirty years old, workplace gender equalities haven’t really improved by leaps and bounds.
The narrative problems throw the film’s pacing off quite a bit. Getting through Fonda’s first day at the office takes twenty minutes, which sets the pace for a while, but the second half is summarized (if not abbreviated).
Under Higgins’s assured direction, Nine to Five shows a sitcom concept can work as a movie. More, it can be funny, insightful and rather well-acted.
About the only thing off is Charles Fox’s goofy score.