After premiering at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Joachim Back’s Corner Office is finally making its way into theaters at a time when American workers have made it clear that they aren’t really interested in being stuck in cubicles all day. A disdain for the mind-numbing monotony that can come with clocking in to dreary nine-to-fives is palpable in both Corner Office’s aesthetics and its story about a man who lives for his work because it’s all that gives him meaning.
But for all of its promise and obvious understanding of what can make white-collar administrative work feel like hell, Corner Office gets so stuck in its main character’s head that it kind of ends up forgetting to make a fully cohesive point.
Based on Swedish actor / author Jonas Karlsson’s 2015 novel The Room, Corner Office is a curious peek into the life of a man named Orson (Jon Hamm) whose unhealthy relationship with his job and colleagues begins to shift one day after he makes a strange discovery. Like most everyone who works at The Authority — a massive, brutalist complex of poured concrete and glass — Orson isn’t all that sure what the point of the company is or how his labor contributes to its endless output.
Every day as he comes in, Orson’s careful to nervously steal a glance at receptionist Alyssa (Sarah Gadon) before heading up to the desk he shares with Rikesh (Danny Pudi) to silently stew about how unorganized his co-worker is. From the outside looking in, there isn’t anything all that remarkable about Orson that would make people see him as being especially different from any of his colleagues. But from Orson’s very inwardly focused perspective — the primary vantage point from which Corner Office presents its tale — he’s a misunderstood genius and a unique talent being overlooked by his manager Andrew (Christopher Heyerdahl).
Similar to The Room, Corner Office is a cerebral journey into the mind of an average man who sees himself as being superior to his peers but can’t see how everyone else around him perceives him to be a rather average weirdo who doesn’t know how to be cordial or cooperative. But whereas Karlsson’s novel was meant to be an exploration of both office culture and the madness it can breed in a person, Corner Office focuses more on the latter as it details how Orson stumbles upon a mysterious unused office one afternoon that nobody else can see or get into.
It’s somewhat easy to see why Lionsgate picked Corner Office up for distribution in the way Orson — a quietly hateful man Hamm portrays with a bumbling, nervous quality — is transformed into secondhand Don Draper by his periodic visits to his secret office. There, when he’s by himself admiring the wood paneling and shelves lined with books, Orson can finally hear himself think and luxuriate in the gift that is his own company. But in screenwriter Ted Kupper’s script — and the way most of Corner Office’s dialogue is just Orson talking to himself about how much better than everyone else at The Authority he is — it’s also easy to see how many of the same beats that made The Room such an interesting read don’t quite translate to the screen.
Setting aside how difficult it is to buy Hamm as a mustachioed Joe Schmo who doesn’t know how to buy suits that fit him, Corner Office doesn’t seem to have any keen insights about the office culture it’s picking apart. At times, it almost feels as if Hamm’s casting as Orson is meant to be a kind of point in and of itself about the ways in which even the most average white men are afforded a level of societal privilege that others aren’t.
But while the building blocks for that kind of story are present, Corner Office never pulls them together because it’s far more interested in making you feel as if you’re in Orson’s mind — an effect created by an overabundance of voiceover narration from Hamm that inadvertently makes the film feel like a lengthy ASMR video at times.
There are so many details — like the disposable booties Authority employees must wear at all times and the uncertainty about where Orson’s office is — that it almost seems like Corner Office is on the cusp of sliding into a novel genre space that’s adjacent to Apple’s Severance. Whenever things start getting properly weird and interesting, though, Corner Office stops short of really going for it, and the result is that the movie ends up feeling a bit like a cup of lukewarm, watered-down break room coffee.
Corner Office is in theaters now.