I Just Watched 9 To 5 For The First Time Streaming, And Holy Cow, I Had No Idea What The Movie Was About

 Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in an original still from 9 to 5.
Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in an original still from 9 to 5.

A few years ago, a co-worker and I were chatting in the common room of our office when she casually mentioned that 9 to 5 was one of the most interesting '80s movies. At the time, my entire understanding of that movie had everything to do with the Dolly Parton song of the same name (that I later found out is used amply in the flick) and nothing to do with the plot of the movie whatsoever. Thanks to the joys of streaming, all of that has changed, but I’m here to tell you: Holy hell, I had no idea what the movie was about.

To start let’s talk about the things I knew about 9 to 5 going in to streaming it for the first time with my Max subscription.

  • I knew it was an office movie, and a comedy.

  • I knew Dolly Parton was in it.

  • I knew it had come out in the eighties.

  • I also knew it was an early collaboration between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

For a movie that came out years and years before I was born, I at least feel like this is a reasonable amount to know about a movie beyond just generally being aware of its existence. Regardless, if you, like me, were born well after the year 1980, you may be shocked to learn this movie has a wild AF plot and messages that are still relevant today.

So, here’s the holy cow of it all. Fonda, Tomlin and Parton all work in the same office. Their characters Judy, Violet and Doralee are an odd pairing, as Judy is a rule follower and the new gal in the office, Violet is seasoned and overdue for a promotion, and Doralee is seen to be sleeping with the boss given his overt flirtations – though she’s actually uncomfortable with the interactions as his employee. So far, it sounds like a pretty straightforward office comedy, right?

Well, let's just go ahead and dive into all the bonkers things that happen across 9 to 5's bonkers hour and 40 minute runtime.

Some Things I Found Bonkers About 9 To 5

Obviously, I’m about to get into spoilers, and while I think that’s fair game for a movie that came out in 1980, I’ll go ahead and warn you anyway. Don’t read further if you’d like this movie to be a surprise when you stream it as well.

The casual sexism. The ladies’ boss is so transparently skeevy in 9 to 5. If this is what the workplace was like in the eighties, count me out. Honestly, it was so unexpectedly gross it reminded me of when I was watching Mildred Pierce and some random stranger just casually spanked Kate Winslet’s character. Didn’t even know her! The audacity of this behavior is apalling, but the bad boss in this movie does not get a pass.

The fact that Violet considers murdering her boss, then plans to murder her boss, then thinks she’s murdered her boss. (All with rat poison she accidentally put in his coffee.) Honestly, this sequence of events is hysterical, but I had no freaking clue this movie was about a revenge fantasy, and this first bit all happens so fast, after a marijuana-enhanced dreaming sequence! What did I get myself into?

There’s a series of unfortunate events in which the ladies (who think their boss is poisoned) take him to the hospital. They then overhear a doctor speaking about a poisoned man who died and steal the body. Violet then crashes the car with the body in the trunk, causing the women to take a better look and realize the body isn’t their boss Mr. Hart after all. So they literally drive back to the hospital to return the body. Just wild.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get more WTF, the ladies decide to kidnap their boss. I mean, honestly, at this point a kidnapping feels par for the course, and Mr. Hart kind of brought it on himself, attempting to blackmail Doralee into sleeping with him. Could things get weirder? (I’m asking rhetorically because of course they can.)

There’s an element of bondage. In fact the ladies tie their boss up. And not like just with some rope. They get up to even more shenanigans as they literally put Mr. Hart on a metal garage runner attached to some bondage materials, including chains and a collar. Hoo boy!

This couldn’t be a happy ending could it? In the absence of the head honcho, Doralee, Judy and Violet start making changes and sprucing up the office, first with flair on desks and then with some innovative changes, like offering childcare during office hours. Eventually they blackmail Mr. Hart with evidence of alleged wrongdoing they’d found but it all ends well for everyone, when the head honcho arrives and offers Hart a “promotion” in Brazil to improve operations there, and the ladies officially take over the office. 10 points for feminism and 0 points for chauvinism.

Look, if you’ve seen the movie, you should know I’m just rehashing some of the crazier plot points here, but I cannot begin to tell you how little I understood about this bonkers film until I put it on. Some of the stuff I expected was there. There are zingers thrown between the leading ladies -- two of whom are comedy icons and one of whom is an absolute legend -- and there’s the expected change in the office for the better I thought was a part of the movie heading in. Regardless, I had no idea this was the story of a near murder-turned blackmail-turned happy ending. I'm still thinking about it days later.

How 9 To 5 Came About

There’s actually a PBS documentary called  9to5: The Story Of A Movement that touches on how Dolly Parton’s song and the subsequent movie was based on the real-life concept of women in the workplace in the seventies realizing they could fight for better pay and working conditions, and that they could engage in the fight together. For the documentary, Jane Fonda was interviewed, and she spoke out about the famous flick.  Per Fonda in the doc:

The movie was married to a movement.

Comedy is not supposed to necessarily be tied down to reality, but the idea of thinking you’ve accidentally killed your boss and then kidnapping him in his own home instead is just so over-the-top and unexpected I was agape. Plus, watching the revenge fantasy play out was a whole lot more fun than watching a revenge movie like Promising Young Woman (which is a good movie, but decidedly not fun in any way.)

Really, they don't make 'em like this anymore. Given how ungrounded in reality the flick is, the fact that it simultaneously was a love letter to a real life movement is also just perfection. The cast is great, the soundtrack has one banger (OK and one banger only), but if you have not seen this movie, now is the time to give it a whirl. Even if they never end up making that 9 to 5 sequel, you won’t regret it.

Stream it now on Max.