What a way to make a livin’: Alison Carr salutes the film that brought together boss-beating trio Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Then wonders why it still seems all too familiar.
From the minute the opening title song kicks in I’m already 74 per cent happier than I was before I started watching. That iconic beat and then we’re off: “Tumble outta bed and a stumble to the kitchen…”. That’s it, I’m sold. Not only am I sold, but I’m singing along and maybe I’m watching the credit sequence once (twice?) more before settling into the film.
There’s more to 9 to 5 than its legendary titular song, of course. Namely, three overworked and underappreciated female employees battling against their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigoted boss Mr Hart.
Shy divorcee Judy (Jane Fonda) nervously embarks on her first day at Consolidated Industries, under the watchful eye of Senior Supervisor Violet (Lily Tomlin). World weary and sharp tongued, Violet is the office stalwart constantly leapfrogged for promotion by less qualified male colleagues.
Then there’s Mr Hart’s secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton), all blonde bubble perm and cleavage, treated like a pariah by her workmates cos they think she’s shagging the boss. A joint, a bonkers fantasy sequence and a mix-up with some rat poison later and our put-upon trio are embarking on a comic caper that includes a corpse in the car boot and suspending the boss from the ceiling. All done while wearing some pretty intense 80s fashions and with Fonda sporting a pair of specs that Deidre Barlow might have balked at.
“Dolly Parton is all homespun Southern charm, underestimated because of the way she looks but quickly proving that she’s a gal with a brain as well as boobs.”
Among all its capers and hijinks, 9 to 5 is a celebration of working women and of female friendship. When we first meet our headline threesome they are worlds apart. Violet looks down her nose at Judy for only ever having been a housewife previously, and both sneer at Doralee. It isn’t until they band together that they are able to hogtie Hart and hold him hostage, and together they implement extensive changes that make Consolidated a better place to work.
The star of the show is, for me, La Parton. This was her first leading role in a film but she takes to it like a pro and it’s a precursor to the Dolly we’ve seen on screen since. She’s all homespun Southern charm, underestimated because of the way she looks but quickly proving that she’s a gal with a brain as well as boobs.
Dolly and her two co-stars are a joy together: funny and smart, quick witted and farcical. A film with three strong female leads would be worthy of note now, let alone in 1980.
And that’s the thing with 9 to 5. It’s still relevant, which is sort of depressing. Yes, Judy tells her ex to do one and finds some confidence. Yes, Violet gets the long desired promotion. Yes, people come to see that Doralee is more than just her bra size. But for all the workplace changes our heroines initiate during Mr Hart’s absence (read, kidnapping) like a work-share programme and day care, their equal pay policy is swiftly scrapped by the Chairman of the Board.
They end the film lamenting this, but toasting that “it’s just the beginning”. *Hollow laughter* Thirty-six years later there is still a ‘pink collar ghetto’ and women are still fighting for equal pay. What a sad state of affairs that a film that was radical then should remain so much so today.
Too downbeat an ending? Get that theme tune blasting…
Did you know: Dolly Parton accepted the role in 9 to 5 on the condition she could write and sing the film’s theme song. Her long acrylic nails inspired the rhythm when she realised they sounded like a typewriter when she rubbed them together. Queen.5339 Views
Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.