There was a definite wave of nostalgia that splashed over me during the opening moments of Still Working 9 to 5, a fact most likely attributable to the always warm and always distinct voice of Dolly Parton vibrantly coming to life but also to my own incredible memories of sitting in the movie theatre as a teenager with my mother having no real clue just how much she identified with the film 9 to 5 that serves as the foundation for this engaging and still painfully relevant documentary currently screening at the Nashville Film Festival.
At the time, all I knew was that I laughed. A lot. I wasn't really aware at the time that it was practically unheard of to have a feature film led by three actresses. I'm not sure I completely understood that underneath all that comedy was a powerful message about workplace inequality. I would eventually learn these things, of course, but at the time I just knew that I loved this movie and that Dolly Parton song was just so darn catchy.
There's so much more to 9 to 5 and it's that more that comes wondrously to life in Camille Hardman and Gary Lane's Still Working 9 to 5. It's a film made with the full cooperation of the people behind the film including Parton, Tomlin, and Fonda along with the dastardly Dabney Coleman. We go way behind the scenes of a film we thought we already knew and we also come face-to-face with the fact that 40+ years later 9 to 5 may very well have been the very first #MeToo film to come along.
Still Working 9 to 5 had its world premiere at SXSW and is proving to be a popular festival selection likely resulting from that same wave of nostalgia that I experienced along with the light, winning touch of Hardman and Lane as they guide us through the ins and outs, secrets and not so secrets of this film that could have been a wild miss but ended up snagging over $100 million at the box-office in 1980 as the #1 comedy of the year and #2 overall film to a certain empire striking back.
Unsurprisingly, studios were a bit resistant to releasing a film led by women even if those women were proven stars and familiar faces. When producers began pushing for Dabney Coleman as the dastardly boss rather than an actor with proven star power, 9 to 5 could have easily been derailed. Everyone persisted, most notably Fonda herself who guided the film's manifestation far more than we ever realized.
Taking its name after the organization 9 to 5 co-founded by longtime Fonda friend Karen Nussbaum, the movie 9 to 5 always had within its roots the organization's mission of equal pay for equal work. It's a message presented humorously in the film, but it's a message that was taken seriously by everyone involved.
Still Working 9 to 5 weaves together all the insights we'd hope to snag from a documentary about this 1980 film while also never letting go of the fact that 40 years later these issues remain relevant. While there's a definite lightness to Still Working 9 to 5, there's never a moment when we're allowed to forget that what entertained us in 1980 continues to be a vital mission including for the organization now known under the name 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women.
Still Working 9 to 5 is a definite crowd-pleaser. Hardman and Lane approach the documentary an awful lot like Colin Higgins approached the original film with healthy doses of heart and humor along with messages that are never too far away. Still Working 9 to 5 will leave you feeling entertained before realizing you're still thinking about the film days later. As a bonus, a delightful new version of the chart-topping theme song is included with the extraordinary Kelly Clarkson joining Parton to put the perfect icing on this cinematic cake.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic