Recent buzz compares Clockwatchers to last year's corporate critique In the Company of Men, but it's more like a slacker female version of Glengarry Glen Ross. Four temps--Iris, Paula, Margaret, and Jane--form a bond while (hardly) working at Global Credit and get back at their bosses with small, unnoticed rebellions such as misfiling papers and hanging up on customers. But their solidarity crumbles when favorite mugs, wallets, and presentations start disappearing from the office. The suits begin to suspect the temps, and the temps, who need their managers' recommendations to climb up or move on, begin to blame each other.
Unfortunately sibling filmmakers Jill and Karen Sprecher spend more time fussing over the characters' quirks and the movie's set design than on the somewhat forced main story line. Global Credit's office is decked out in drab tans and sick pastels, and the furniture is vaguely '50s Moderne, bringing to mind the mid-century era when corporate offices became a white, middle-class way of life. Adding to the mood, director Jill Sprecher alternates her camera shots between claustrophobic closeups and lonely, distant angles. Some meanspirited (albeit amusing) office stereotypes round out the picture: the molelike office assistant who guards the supply cabinet, the headmistress office manager, the missing-link mail-room guy, and the middle managers--all white males--who are petty and obsessed with hierarchy.
The Sprechers, who co-wrote the screenplay, don't spare their heroines either. Although the actors are typecast, they convey the temps' aimless and empty lives honestly and convincingly. Toni Colette (Muriel's Wedding) plays the shrinking, unassertive Iris, whose indecision landed her in the temp job, a sinkhole from which she might not escape. Airheaded Paula (Friends' Lisa Kudrow) and Jane (Alanna Ubach) dream of escaping into doomed endeavors--acting and marriage, respectively. Sassy rebel Margaret (played by indie-film princess Parker Posey), like the other temps, has an inflated sense of importance at the office, thinking a temp walkout would shut down the whole place. She really wants to fit in and get a recommendation like everyone else, but she's not willing to work for it.
All of this is periodically funny, pathetic, and even insightful, but Clockwatchers is aptly titled for reasons that go beyond the on-screen scenario. The film feels overlong at times, and the Sprechers don't expend enough energy establishing the relationship between the girls, so when Iris laments their downfall near the end of the film, it rings hollow. Perhaps that's the point: After all, these are the shallow lives of corporate proles. But after living that life for an hour in the theater, you might be ready to get on with your own.