Labor Day. Some call it a real holiday, others call it a fake one, and ironically many people have to work on the holiday despite it being a day to sit back and appreciate the working man. While Labor Day itself is never really the setting of a film there are a lot of movies fitting for the holiday, and not just blockbusters or Academy Award hopefuls trying to cash in on the last big weekend of summer. Before I myself take a short weekend break for Labor Day I decided to count down a few films appropriate for a day celebrating the working man. Here are Ten Films Perfect For Labor Day.
For this list I had pretty loose standards with the only requirement being that a major theme or plot point of a film has to involve the working class citizen and their job or the lack of a job market around them. These are films that, intentionally or unintentionally, celebrate the hard working middle class man or woman and touch on the struggles of finding employment, keeping employment, getting ahead, or juggling life outside of the office. After researching a lot of other similar lists, which I will do from time to time to make sure I’m not ripping anyone off unintentionally, I decided not to focus solely on union-based films like a lot of other bloggers and reviewers do. My list includes films with messages or themes that celebrate the 9 to 5ers in general whether in a serious nature or in a more comedic or subtle fashion.
I hope everyone has a happy Labor Day weekend and I’ll be back next week. For now, enjoy the list!
While the work environment may not be the centerpiece of this stage-to-screen adaptation of the popular play, a black man’s struggle to find his place in the world and provide for his family includes some pretty serious references to the hardships minorities have felt over the years gaining equal representation in terms of promotions and higher positions in the ranks. In the film Denzel Washington portrays Troy Maxson , a part he also played on stage, a black man who failed at developing into a baseball superstar and struggles with his simple life as the only worker in his family. There are deeper elements of the film, but for the sake of this list Maxson is presented as a garbage man and, early in the film, aspires to earn a promotion as a driver, something no black man in his company has ever accomplished. It’s an important goal for a man who only wants to provide for his family the best way he can and someone whose higher aspirations have evaded him before. By the time Maxson does finally get the promotion we have a great understanding of just how important the job is to him and for both himself and those around him it’s an important step forward not only for his race, but in his own life. It’s subtle, but it’s a significant side story in a film about all kinds of family and personal struggles and it’s one worth watching for a little inspiration about how effort and determination can pay off once in a while, even for the most downtrodden men.
9. “Glengarry Glen Ross”
From one play adaptation to another, “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a 1992 cult classic that focuses on a group of real estate salesmen who are informed that a trainer will be coming in to help motivate them, and as it turns out the salesmen are made to compete against each other with only the top two keeping their jobs. A profanity laden film experience with numerous one-liners, “Glengarry Glen Ross” delves into the high stakes and intense livelihood of salesmanship like few before it or sense ever did. The film focuses on the stress of such a lifestyle with every salesman having a different story and purpose. Some are looking to make it in the world, while others have more personal stakes at home they need to manage through their income. We see the effect the stress has on the workers, the vile work environment and relationships the competition creates, and even see how far some of them will go to get the big sale and stay on top. “Glengarry Glen Ross” is an excellent showcase of workplace struggles in a light few films have ever dared to explore. While a salesman job might seem like fun and games on the surface, when you get down to it such a livelihood is cutthroat and harsh and I’m sure many could relate.
8. “Up In The Air”
What would you do if your job was to fire people? How would you handle it? What if you’re job required you to travel every day to experience some of the worst days in peoples’ professional lives? Those are the circumstances of the characters in “Up in the Air”. George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a man who enjoys and actually embraces his traveling lifestyle and his brutal career choice. The irony is that Bingham, who is hired by companies to fire people, could himself lose his job and his lifestyle thanks to new technology and approaches being tested by a companion that utilizes computers and scripted discussions for the firing process. This film is spectacular and explores many different themes of the traveling worker including how such a lifestyle can affect one’s personal relationships and romantic life. It also tackles the difficult nature of letting workers go, especially ones with extensive history with a company, as we see several interactions with workers that find themselves at a loss, including one who threatens to commit suicide and another who feels offended and distraught by not only being let go but by hearing the news from a stranger on a computer screen. The film juggles delicate themes and a bit of subtle comedy to present an unique narrative about the harsh realities of company consolidation and job loss. For many watching the film, it may be a project that presents them with their worst fears realized on screen.
7. “Horrible Bosses”
We’ve all had them. Horrible bosses can completely destroy anything and everything you love about a company or your workplace and muck up a once enjoyable 9 to 5. Whether they are bosses that have always been horrible or new managers that came in after you already settled into your job bad bosses ruin your day through micromanagement, abuse, and self-righteousness and forget that leaders should be helping pull the carriage not whipping people into shape. That concept was turned into a 2011 comedy that took three of the most talented actors of the day, Colin Ferrill, Kevin Spacey, and Jennifer Aniston, and made them horrendous people to work for as a partying legacy company head, a bad-attitude abusive leader, and a nymphomaniac respectively. The three performances are complete gold and if you’ve ever had a bad boss, I know I have, you’ll appreciate this film’s attempt to make light of one of the most discouraging aspects of any workplace environment. While not every boss is bad and many companies today do make an effort to lead by example rather than from an office, many workers can still relate to this entertaining cinematic representation of what it’s like to work under someone you truly despise and seems to do nothing but destroy any likable aspect of the job you devote your time to every day.
6. “Nine to Five”
The film that spawned an earworm of a theme song, this classic 1980s film follows Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as a trio of working class women who finally turn the tables on their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss. The movie also brought about a stage production and television series making it probably the most widespread property on this list, but with good reason. The project was not only one about female empowerment, but about stomping down the higher ups who think they are untouchable just because they head up the company. It’s a message that resonated mostly with women, but also included concepts that any working class citizen could relate to especially if they’re trying to work their way up and watch the most evil of them sit on top of the ladder. Funny and satisfying in the sense that it plays out the fantasies of many in a similar situation, “Nine to Five” is a true gem for the working woman and while its premise does delve a bit into the ridiculous side it’s a great piece of cinematic escapism that plays on the imaginations of many disgruntled female employees across the world. There’s always been a controversy about men having a birthright advantage in the work place and while in today’s world that spread has certainly leveled out more than the conditions of the 1980s, the message still rings true for many in today’s society who are tired of watching the worst of us, especially the worst men, live the life of luxury looking down on those below them.
One of the more serious entries on this list, “Silkwood” for me is a fascinatingly brutal and honest cinematic story to behold in terms of its setting. Meryl Streep plays a worker at a plutonium processing plant who is purposefully contaminated and tortured, and possibly killed, to prevent her from exposing the questionable work environment of the plant. It’s a concept we’ve seen before, but not quite to this effect where an individual is casually silenced in numerous ways to keep a company’s secrets at bay. We hear stories every day about companies, especially bigger corporations, cutting corners to save a buck at the expense of their workers. One of the most famous recent incidents is the Deepwater Horizon incident which cost several lives as a result of negligent decisions by those in charge. While “Stillwater” may not be the most epic film and delves into chick-flick territory, it’s still thought provoking in that it challenges the concept of what a company is willing to do to silence a worker that decides to take a real stand. The fear of loss of employment , defamation, and even harsher consequences is in the back of every employee’s mind when they decide to stand up for change within or outside of their company. “Stillwater” is a great representation of how those fears could be justified and while much of its plot is dramatized for effect, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the working man or woman was seen as expendable to protect the reputation of a company at any cost.
It doesn’t take a lot of complexity to capture the working man’s life, and “Clerks” is evidence of that. An iconic low-budget film that today still has a still-growing cult fan base, “Clerks” showcases a day in the lives of a pair of convenience store clerks named Dante and Randal who banter and interact with customers in a realistic setting. It sounds boring, but “Clerks” is a film many can relate to as most of us have spent time in a dead end job where the hours just endlessly tick by second by second. How many of us have found ourselves in pointless conversations just to escape the boredom of the job we don’t even want to be doing? The film also shows off banter with customers as the employees annoy the patrons to amuse themselves, something I can say from experience does happen in real life especially in retail. “Clerks” may not be epic in scale, but it’s a fun story to watch and any middle-class worker will be able to relate especially when you realize the film covers an entire day and that these clerks do this every single day just to get by. It might also make you look at yourself and wonder “what am I doing with my life”, which may just inspire you to try and be more productive and offer more to the world than the subjects of the film. Honestly “Clerks” is just a fun and enjoyably simple film about the subtleties and truths behind the people behind the counter. It’s down-to-earth and feels real, making it easy to relate to and even easier to enjoy on your Labor Day off.
3. “The Company Men”
In terms of brutal honesty this one takes the cake. “The Company Men” hits right at home for many workers over the past 18 years and focuses on a year in the lives of three men working to survive a corporate downsizing and how the possible inevitability of their unemployment and the stress of the process impacts them in and out of the office. It’s a very real situation that effects workers nationwide as companies are constantly looking for more economic ways of operating by consolidating jobs and positions as well and inserting new technologies into the fold. Losing one’s job is hard, but losing it because you’re “not needed” anymore can be absolutely debilitating especially if you’ve done everything in your power to prove your abilities and significance to the company. The situations presented in “The Company Men” showcase how families and individual lives are changed forever and suddenly because of the decisions of a company and presents how employees can feel like disposable items in the big picture when a company decides to take a new direction. After watching this film I’d bet you’d feel very lucky to still have your job and position. While going to work might not always be the most fun you’ll ever have, it could very well be a whole lot worse. You could be living the lives of these men. So take a moment this weekend and watch this film to remind yourself that being employed in itself is a blessing for many in today’s world.
2. “Death of a Salesman”
The third play adaptation on this list, the 1951 film adaptation of “Death of a Salesman” is my focus here which earned numerous Golden Globe and Academy Award nods in its portrayal of the famed Arthur Miller work about the failure of the American Dream. “Death of a Salesman” is quite possibly the most famous work about the struggles of making it in the real world with your family and dreams on the line. While dated by today’s standards, the film shows the brutal deterioration of Willy Loman as he looks at his life trying to figure out where he went wrong with his personal decisions and poor work success playing massive roles in his condition. This film is more than just a look at how the lack of success as an employee can impact one’s family and mental state, but also a look at how everything else in life can create just as much pressure to the point where a man’s entire being begins to fall apart. This is an important story, on stage or screen, that should resonate with anyone and in the same way that “Fences” shows how a minority citizen works through his own issues and work struggles to try to accomplish his own American Dream, “Death of a Salesman” is a harsh reminder of how the pressures of life in general, along with the hardship of finding success at work, can destroy any man who fails to see the simple things in his reality as the most worthwhile investments. “Death of a Salesman” is one of those stories that will hopefully give you a new lease on life and make you realize that all those mistakes and those struggles for success are not worth the pain and suffering if it comes at the expense of your family and personal health.
Probably the obvious top choice for Labor Day weekend, “Office Space” is the epitome of a “work” movie and one that has become the go-to film for ANYONE who hates their job. Telling the story of three friends who despise their dead end jobs in an office one of the friends undergoes a hypnotism therapy session that helps him get over his real-world issues but also empowers him to stand up for himself and stand against the demeaning leaders of his job. It’s more than just that though introducing us to a slew of colorful and memorable characters that all have different perspectives on the work environment, perfectly capturing many clichés including brown nosing, the failure of technology, the boss’s lack of consideration for personal lives, and, most of all, water-cooler talk! “Office Space” also successfully evokes concerns about worker abuse and knowing what you are worth despite the need for an income to create an obscure and complete presentation of work life in all it’s boring, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes comical glory. While it might not seem like much on the outside, “Office Space” is a must watch for Labor Day weekend and I can guarantee you’ll relate to at least one character as you watch this comedic and simple premise unfold. It’s a film you really can’t help but appreciate and it’s a rare treat where you’re probably going to see yourself in its main character and long to take all the steps he does towards ridding himself of a job that takes advantage of him while putting his life in a better, more rewarding, direction.