A documentary about a hit 1980 comedy shows how far we’ve come and how far we must go – Deadline
The 1980 hit comedy 9 to 5 has reached a crucial turning point for working women. Star/producer Jane Fonda explains in the new documentary about her creation and the movement that spawned it, that she and her producing partner Bruce Gilbert wanted to make a serious film about the struggle women had endured for decades. but instead decided that to get anyone to pay attention, the only way to do so was to laugh. Thus was born a hit comedy, first with a screenplay by Patricia Resnick which, as she explained, encountered creative differences, then later had its issues resolved when, ironically, a man, the late Colin Higgins (Harold and Maud) came to write and direct the final film.
The documentary, from directors Camille Hardman and Gary Lane titled Still working 9 to 5 comprehensively chronicles the development and making of the film from all angles, but has much more in mind as a starting point to examine how equality for women in the workplace has come a long way, but sadly always has a long way to go 42 years after the original’s debut. The film works on many levels with extensive behind-the-scenes coverage of the film itself, including the cast of Fonda, Dolly Parton in her first film role and Lily Tomlin who initially turned it down thinking it was just too stupid but later came around. All three are interviewed here along with Gilbert, and Dabney Coleman who plays the lustful boss.
Fonda explains that the inspiration came from her involvement in the late 70s with Karen Nussbaum and her National Association of Working Women which Nussbaum founded with Ellen Cassedy, a group that focused on fundamental issues at the time. (and thereafter) dealing with sexual harassment by male co-workers and bosses, lower wages than their male counterparts, menial duties, and little chance of promotion. In interviews, they talk about how the film has become a force, in its own way, to bring these issues to the masses in a bigger way than ever before. The docu covers the work of the organization as well as much later new incarnations like Times Up and MeToo and shows how things have changed, but how much more can be done.
The film’s impact is clear in that we can still see a serious documentary about it – and what it spawned – all this time later. In fact, the movie also covers the 80s sitcom based on the movie starring Rita Moreno (one of the interviewees), Sally Struthers and others that ran for 85 episodes. However, Nussbaum’s organization moved away from it after initial development, as they felt it deviated from the core issues portrayed in the film and became a situation comedy. Allsion Janney is also among those interviewed talking about the short-lived Broadway musical 9 to 5, and there’s also time given to the 2019 revival of that show in London which has been revamped to be more relevant to the current times.
Political issues such as the so far failed attempt to pass the ERA are also covered in detail, but to me this docu, more than most behind the scenes accounts of popular movies that usually live on blu ray editions of films themselves, is very important in showing the real power of film to deepen a discussion on issues that affect us all in one way or another. Hardman and Lane have done a great job of giving a classic comedy its due four decades later, but also letting it shine a light on an ever-hot topic that still deserves to be heard all this time later.
The docu had its world premiere today at SXSW and will hopefully find a much wider audience down the line. Parton and Kelly Clarkson also recorded a cool new version of Parton’s Oscar-nominated theme song which plays over the end credits. There has been talk of making a long-gestating sequel to the original film, but so far no real progress on that front, it seems. Still working 9 to 5 is a pretty good way, however, to convey the message to new generations.