EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH, a sharp workplace comedy

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Ines deserves a raise. It is the poster of EcoClean products. Literally. When she started in the business as a bright young girl, she was the catalog model, the booth babe. It seems most men buy cleaning equipment in bulk, and a pretty face is a huge contributor to sales. Seventeen years later, she is still working diligently and enthusiastically in the human resources department, completely taken for granted, the butt of weary sexist jokes and other occasional abuse from her colleagues.

She is the only female in the company’s sales office and seems to do the majority of the things that need to be done in addition to her regular duties. She makes the coffee, feeds – or replaces – the fish in the aquarium (one of many setups hidden in plain sight) and makes sure there’s enough toilet paper handy for her aggressors can wipe their ass. She is ignored, practically dismissed, during the company’s general assembly, even when the subject concerns the lack of diversity and pay equity in their branch.

I had a former boss (a chemist with a doctorate and a woman) who displayed in her office a porcelain figurine of a person under a tree looking at a bird that said: “Go ahead, everyone does it .” Being stuck in the middle of a society, she got it. I understand now. Whereas Employee of the month is a Belgian film, its outrage at workplace sexism would likely resonate in any culture around the world. It’s a truism that when running a business if you don’t value your employees, your organization will eventually die. Véronique Jadin takes that to wickedly flamboyant extremes in this tightly constructed takedown (or is it an uprising?) of office culture.

When Inès doesn’t get her pay rise, she’s practically shaking in her purple jumpsuit (with matching shoes), as all the men step out to celebrate over an expensive lunch, leaving her with new intern, Melody, to shred paper. After a few stiff drinks from a bottle hidden in the office and popping one of her bosses’ Viagra pills, she’s ready to swallow in her own apathy. Melody, a young woman of color only here to complete her college entrance papers, watches in slightly puzzled horror.

Through a series of (unfortunate) events, his boss suffers a horrible accident. This, along with the just-beginning viagra, shocks Ines out of her personal funk. And an idea pops up: maybe introducing a change of personnel, with extreme prejudice, would help him rise in the company. Fortune smiles on the daring, doesn’t it?

Employee of the month takes the classic sitcom and mixes in busts its heads (and glass ceilings) in a matter of moments. He lets his heroine flourish with each kill. The question of disposal of the bodies is not serious. Inès did all the cleaning, repairing, pitching for EcoClean, which (thankfully) formulates new products in the basement. Lots of strong acid and disinfectants are on hand to get rid of the mess. Incidentally, props to the writers for letting her use triflic acid, a super-acid used to synthesize new chemicals more than cleaning. Inès, when she mixes it into the formulation like a witch’s brew, she becomes a new person, even if she can’t eliminate all the toxic masculinity from her world.

Writer/director Jadin piles on more plot elements, characters, and tropes than you might think possible: embezzlement schemes, arrogant detectives, even a bossy consultant. They’re often broad caricatures, but it works in the specific little whirlwind she’s built. The chime on the front door of the office (which sounds amusingly exactly like the Toronto Transit Commissions “doors are closing” signal) never seems to stop ringing. The fact that all of this is accomplished in less than 80 minutes speaks to crisp, clean craftsmanship. Employee of the month a sitcom on steroids… uh… Viagra.

And yet, the film never takes its eyes off the anti-heroines’ personal journey of empowerment. Jasmina Douieb, a Belgian theater actress and director herself, demonstrates a wonderful transformation from corporate wallflower to cunning femme fatale. She does horrible things, Ines can be horrible herself, corrupt power and all that, but you want her (and Melody) to succeed nonetheless, because they make a fun team and their journey seems fair. The whole script is over the top, constantly threatening to go off the rails, but in the end it sticks the landing, right down to the tongue-in-cheek pink credits. If you want to clean the steps, start at the top.

employee of the month

Writers)
  • Veronique Jadin
  • Nina Vanspranghe
Cast
  • Peter Van den Begin
  • Philippe Resimont
  • Jasmina Douieb

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