The coldness of corporate America is a much-explored cinematic landscape. The hierarchical dynamics within business spaces lend plenty of opportunity for satirical examination. Whether it’s a horror spin (“Mayhem,” “The Belko Experiment”) or flat-out comedies (“The Office” “Horrible Bosses”), social climbing and capitalist Darwinism are ripe themes for the picking. Joachim Back’s feature debut, “Corner Office,” based on Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, is a stab at a Kafka-esque addition to the canon.
Orson (Jon Hamm) is the newest employee at the cheekily-named The Authority. He’s a typical benumbed office cog with a muted brown suit and flat disposition to boot. Working in the offices of The Authority, he encounters gossipy, unfriendly coworkers and a droning boss. He doesn’t mind if he sticks to his schedule and completes his tasks. His cyclical respite, manifested in scheduled breaks during the day, involves leaving the communal cubicle area and thinking in the corner office he discovers across from the elevator.
In contrast to the white, fluorescent, geometric design of the group’s workspace, the corner office is a mid-century modern dream. The main space is a poster of sterility (down to hospital-blue shoe covers worn by the employees to protect the floor), stunning wood-paneled walls, a large executive desk, and a perfectly curated record collection bathe the corner office in warmth and invitation. Not only does Orson find the room an ideal space to recharge, but he comes to find that he can only excel at his job when working within its walls. However, this habitation creates a hostile work environment once he is confronted by his coworkers about the fact that the room he frequents does not exist.
“Corner Office” nails its intended energy with a dystopian visual tone apparent throughout. With The Authority’s office building being an isolated brutalist high-rise set off a snowed-in parking lot filled with identical cars, it’s clear that the film is built on the feeling of stark neutrality. This coldness is an accessory to that of the script, which largely consists of voiceovers of Orson’s inner dialogue. These voiceovers also serve as the core of the film’s comedic chops.
Orson is marked by his detachment and rigidity, but also his arrogance. Much of this social distance is intentional, as he has no interest in his coworkers, but there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that Orson does not understand people. Hamm delivers his inner dialogue exceptionally, with dry monotony, unempathetic social observations, and notes on the status quo reminiscent of “American Psycho.” However, these voiceovers quickly devolve from being the film’s comedic center to its crutch.
The humor of “Corner Office” quickly grows tired. The structure and delivery are stagnant, dragging the film into restless territory by the time it’s only halfway through. The question of whether the room exists and what the answer means for the characters is what holds our investment, but the runtime becomes tedious while we wait for the reveal.
Back’s filmic thesis is present though not fully realized. The script packs punchlines but eventually fizzles out, the film wavering while trying to balance its promise and lack of substance. “Corner Office” is a sometimes-funny satire stuffed with capitalist ennui, but it bites with dull teeth, failing to provide enough support for its sentiment to stick.
On demand and in limited theatrical release now.