That 9 to 5 -- which starred Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda as coworkers who plot revenge on their monstrous boss -- is still as relevant today as it was when it took the box office by storm in 1980 is both a testament to its iconic status as a feminist and camp classic, as well as an indictment of our stalled-out and often regressive society in regards to equal rights in the workplace. It's that dichotomy that Still Working 9 to 5, which made its world premiere last night at SXSW, explores.
The documentary opens with a recounting of the film's inception, production, and reception. Its a tale full of anecdotes that will delight fans of the movie -- like how out actor Lily Tomlin almost quit the project before it was off the ground, even though her part was literally written for her. The day was saved by her partner Jane Wagner, who told the comic to get on the phone and get the role back!
But it's not just a film about the making of another one; it places its subject in a historical context. 9 to 5 was born out of and named after the movement and activist group (still) fighting for crumbs of equality in the workplace in the late '70s and it played a role in the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) movement, inspiring women (including actor Rita Moreno who appears in the film) to rise up and demand more. Some of the film's most illuminating moments are the clips of various interviews that reveal a time when interviewers were equally fascinated and mystified by the female-led, women's lib comedy as they were Parton's waist-to-bust ratio.
The doc also delves into the film's enduring legacy. It was the No. 1 comedy of 1980 and inspired a short-lived television series and Broadway musical. But most impactful of all is the argument of how, while its aesthetics (as charming as they are) may seem quaint and outdated, the core thesis of the film resonates and inspires just as strongly today as ever in our post #MeToo world. (Harvey Weinstein makes a surprise and deeply ironic appearance).
More than 100 years after the first version of the ERA was introduced, it still hasn't been ratified, and pay equality, particularly for women of color, is still lagging shamefully behind. So, is it any surprise that 9 to 5 endures? As it turns out, seeing an exploitative boss trussed up and paying for his crimes through corporal punishment is a timelessly cathartic image. The only thing better may be listening to Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda reminisce about its creation.
Still Working 9 to 5 made its world premiere at SXSW. Check out the trailer below. This review is part of our coverage of the SXSW 2022 Film Festival.