Devoted worker bee Orson (Jon Hamm) loves corporate America. On day one of his new job at mysterious corporation The Authority, Inc., he is already enamored with the inner workings of the big capitalist machine. This includes, but is not limited to: A drawer full of staples, a timetable that helps him maximize his productivity and, of course, discovering the best place to store printer paper. Soon, office life becomes even more thrilling for Orson when he discovers an uninhabited corner office that is complete with luxurious mahogany surfaces, expensive upholstery and, most importantly, a mysterious property that helps him increase his workday output. The only problem? None of his coworkers seem to be able to see the sacred room.
Directed by Joachim Back and written by Ted Kupper in a script based on Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, Corner Office follows Orson as he slips deeper and deeper into obsession, much to the irritation of his coworkers. But if you’re hoping that this is the grounds for an absorbing and thought-provoking corporate mind-bender, you might be better off watching Severance or Black Mirror.
While Corner Office is heavily concerned with satirizing office culture, it doesn’t actually bother to say anything meaningful about it. Yes, it’s dystopian that Orson’s wildest dreams involve a room that helps him work harder. Yes, the fact that we never learn what The Authority, Inc. actually does is a worthy commentary on the mundanity of a nine-to-five. But that cleverness never amounts to anything more than cleverness for cleverness’ sake.
From the moment that Orson sets up shop at his new cubicle, Corner Office feels like 100 minutes of treading water. This has to do, in part, with a dense voiceover that drones on for the film’s entire runtime. It’s laboriously repetitive, with Orson reiterating his obsession with the corner office again and again until he’s blue in the face. It is also overly expositional, despite the plot not churning out much to explain in the first place. From all angles, the voiceover is a perplexing choice. Perhaps it is merely Back’s attempt at adding levity to the film—the narration does sometimes take on the tone of a noir spoof—but the writing is light on humor or sharpness.
Like its tedious voiceover, the aesthetics of Corner Office mirror the flat and lifeless office lifestyle occupied by its protagonist. Almost every square inch of the film is flat and gray, the framing mostly stagnant and unimaginative, the costumes uniformly bland. But instead of helping bring us into the film’s dystopian world, the lack of visual appeal simply makes for a more monotonous viewing experience.
Perhaps most surprising is that Hamm’s performance doesn’t add much to the equation. Orson—or as I like to call him, Don Draper if he never got his big break—is smug, mustached and conniving, and Hamm, while doing the best he can with his characters’ stilted dialogue, plays him like a one-note throwaway side character. His expression is locked in a constant scowl, and he delivers most of his lines with a menacing tone that quickly becomes predictable—wasting Hamm on this is a crime. The actual side characters are played with the same tenor as Orson. Cold and calculating boss man Andrew (Christopher Heyerdahl) might as well be a character in Despicable Me, while Danny Pudi isn’t given much to work with as worn-out employee Rakesh.
The wooden performances might be easier to stomach if they served a greater purpose but, even at the end, Corner Office seems wholly unsure what it wants to say. Is this really such a simple critique of corporate America? Perhaps a jab at arrogant men with superiority complexes? A Kafkaesque tale that isn’t supposed to mean anything at all? Yes, Corner Office does scramble to tie things up in its grand finale and deliver a greater meaning to the room. But, then again, if a film isn’t able to pique your interest in its first 99 minutes, does the final one really matter?
Director: Joachim Back
Writer: Ted Kupper
Stars: Jon Hamm, Danny Pudi, Sarah Gadon, Christopher Heyerdahl
Release Date: August 4, 2023
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.