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Office Romance is a Rom-Com about people with horrifying teeth falling in love or lust with the talent at the workplace.
As with the past entries on The Irony of Fate, and Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears there is a fair amount of misdirection, but the movie is a straightforward romantic comedy. It’s their version of The Taming of the Shrew, which I have only consumed in Ten Things I Hate About You form. The movie is fine. Whatever. Truth be told, this is a pretty standard “makeover movie,” and so long as I’m only looking at the A-Story, there isn’t a hell of a lot for me to roast.
Anatoli is an exhausted and constantly put upon office drone who,
-hey, that’s Ж-Dog from the first review. Wow. He must be in a lot of these movies. Anyway, Anatoli is basically Zhenya before obtaining the life changing powers of new vagine. Which is to say he’s basically Woody Allen without the confidence or wit. BUT with an absolutely wretched mustache, so he’s got you there, Woody.
Given that this movie is called Office Romance, and we immediately meet a reasonably attractive coworker of his in Olga, seen in the first picture above, I had just assumed that she would be on the receiving end of his Office Romance.
See, this movie is a makeover movie. And when Russia gets a makeover movie, they don’t fuck around and give you some starlet with her hair in a bun. They’ll give you a real fix-er-upper. Meet Lyudmila.
She looks like trash, and she’s a bitch. He’s a dork and her employee. Let’s do the speed run, because I don’t want to spend too much time going over the A-Story. Anatoli’s cocksure friend told him to put the moves on her. He tries, fails, insults her, makes her cry, realizes that if you can make her cry you might be able to sleep with her, and gives romance a shot. She’s tired of being lonely, talks to her secretary Verochka about how to become more fashionable, and gets some tough love.
Damn. Don’t let the insect embroidery, crochet mock turtleneck, and Mardi Gras beads fool you; Verochka will engage in some fashion police brutality. Anyway, this is a makeover movie so let’s just cut to it. Show me the after photo.
Oh. Her legs must look like shit. In the name of speeding this along, they hook up, deal with Anatoli’s friend Yury being a dick, and then fuck in the back of a moving car. It should be noted that Anatoli changes in no way whatsoever, despite the fact that he was fucking up at work, and really has just alternated between complimenting and insulting Lyuda. Who happens to be rich, by the way. Wow. What the hell is Anatoli even bringing to this relationship? I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship, but I don’t think any of these Russian Rom-Coms have had any healthy relationships, so maybe this is fine. It beats going to a gulag.
Like I said, it’s fine. But I’m not here to talk about the main part of the story. I’m here to talk about Olga.
Olga is Anatoli’s workplace friend. Dorky Americans might refer to her as his Work Wife. She’s nice. She loans his scrubby ass 20 rubles when he asks for it early on, and after Lyuda gives him the business about getting his numbers straight (which is kind of a big deal in statistics), she cheers him on and tells him how great of a worker he is. She seems like a really nice character.
Unfortunately, as far as I can figure it out, Olga believes this is her Rom-Com story. And what happens when you star in your own Rom-Com? You get to do a few shitty things, act a little selfish, and get everything that you want by the end of the movie.
That…isn’t how things shake out for Olga.
See, Olga’s life is complicated by the introduction of ol Snaggletooth from above.
Meet Yury. Yury is a former friend of Anatoli who used to fool around with Olga. Now he’s a cocksure bigwig. A guy with a beautiful wife, rewarding job, and enough walking around money to make everybody feel a little bit like shit. He’s Russia’s closest approximation of Chris Noth*. He can be charming when he wants to, distant when it’s convenient, and I’m sure his penis is gargantuan.
*This is as observation from a person who has now watched three Russian movies.
Anyway, Olga is not content to let the past live in the past. Olga is fully aroused.
She is thirstier than Boris Yeltsin at a dry wedding. And she goes after it hard as hell.
Yury, it should be noted, is less into it.
Ow. But Olga didn’t hear any of that, and let’s be honest, even if she had, there is absolutely no stopping her. Again, she thinks this is her Rom-Com. Anatoli convinces Yury to invite him to his dinner party- a party in which damn near everybody is invited. Yury invites him to try some of his wife’s salad.
I’m not sure we’re talking about food anymore.
Hey, um…I’m pretty sure his wife got an invite to this shindig, right?
Yup, that’d be her.
Yo Olga, you seem like a nice lady, but what the fuck is your problem?
THIS. AIN’T. YOUR. ROM-COM.
And believe me, that’s really the only explanation I have for her actions here. She’s doing a really bad thing, absolutely hounding this married guy- she’s married too, for what that’s worth- but she’s clearly written to be a sympathetic figure. In no other way does she seem wicked or conniving. She seems like a bored and maybe unfulfilled lady who really, truly loves another guy in her office. That’s like 95% of what makes every Rom-Com. I don’t blame her for thinking that this movie is about her. Romantic Comedy rules explicitly tell us that if somebody is not interested, just keep on applying pressure, and she gives an absolutely textbook demonstration of what to do to win that married man.
Here she is asking him out in the rain
No can do, Olga.
Relatives. You know…families. Those things you and he both have of your own.
Jesus Christ, lady. Let the man fiddle around with his windshield wipers in peace.
Good lord, you’re worse than that Sword and the Stone squirrel.
Does it stop there? Of course not. Being that this woman clearly believes she is the star of her own Rom-Com, she starts writing love letters and delivering them to Yuri through the company secretary. I can see several holes in this plan. Olga believes that she covers her tracks by asking the secretary not to register the letter, which, sure, I could see how you don’t want those getting registered. However, I can’t help but feel that she would have been better served simply getting the letter to him with no middle man. She works in the same office. Surely she can use her feminine wiles to- No? Okay, do it your way. Hopefully Verochka is going to-
Aw for the love of God, she’s doing you dirty, Olga. She’s sold you out. Why did you trust this insect loving gossip hound who is always on the goddamn blower? When has she demonstrated that she has any kind of governor on that mouth? Alright, maybe it won’t be so bad. Just play it cool. But no more desperate shit, like meeting him in front of his office-
See, this is why I said you’ve got to play it co-
OH COME ON. You are so bad at this. You’re doing something shitty. You’re married. He’s married. He’s not interested. You’re not letting it go. But you’re not even a villain. You’re too stupid to be the bad guy.
And that’s just it. I keep hammering this point home, but she is a Rom-Com character. Not a role player, but the lead of a very different movie. Yes, that particular Rom-Com would have been lame and shitty, but all the elements are in place. She’s hopelessly idealistic in the face of near constant rejection. She doesn’t take no for an answer. She doesn’t do anything maliciously. Instead she just opens herself up. She writes yet another letter and gives it to Verochka, and I know where this is going. You haven’t watched this movie and you know where this is going. We’re about 2/3rds of the way through the movie. It’s time for everything to turn to shit for this would be protagonist. Those are the rules. Things have to turn on her, and test her mettle. In a way, this is a brilliant movie. Not only are we going to see a well done A-story, but the B-story is going to have a rich and compelling character arc.
I mean, it would just have to. Logically, speaking.
Otherwise why would anybody put this element into such a light hearted Rom Com based on misunderstandings?
Yeah, I’m sure that’s right.
Anyway, she gives the letter, and looks a little forlorn about the handoff. As if she knows. And then she runs into Yuri.
Woof. Hey, Joe Girardi, how would you say that exchange went?
No, it is not, sir. It’s okay though. This is part of the telling of any Rom-Com. It’s gotta get bleak so that she can power through adversity. Don’t give up, Olga!
Anyway, Yury goes to HR over her general dick chasery. As…you know what, I’m usually on the woman’s side in these movies, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t have one hell of a case. The guy has been a polite but firm no this entire movie. So far his biggest crime appears to be not wanting to be in somebody’s Rom Com. That, or his trying to convince his nebbish friend to bang his boss so that they can both have cushy existences at the same office, which, yeah, that’s also a little morally dubious.
He has the HR lady read a sample letter from Olga. I think the movie wants me to think he’s being a douchebag, but Olga really is getting out of hand.
Then Olga starts to notice extra attention
By the way, there is a lot of talent in this statistics office. Sports lovers, have I got the place for you. Communist Russian Statistics: An absolute factory of desires. The movie seems to acknowledge it. Here’s a guy who works by the stairs (for some reason) and spends the whole time staring at legs.
He shows up several times and that’s all he does in the movie. Doesn’t speak. Doesn’t affect the plot. Just gets super horny behind his desk. Super horny with his hands tucked away under his desk out of view. I’m going to come out and say it: he’s masturbating. Right now. And don’t you dare judge him. How the hell is he supposed to think about numbers at the meat market? He can’t control himself because apparently this office is just a never ending smoke show. It really makes you wonder why Lyuda went to her insect loving secretary.
I’m just kidding. I know why she went to Verochka. It’s because she could trust her with a sec-
Oh. That’s right.
Anyway these smokin hot prudes don’t care much for Olga now. Nor is HR much of a fan. Later, when everybody goes on their standard mid-day watermelon run, Olga gets told by the HR lady that she’s been acting like a hussy.
By the way, shout out to the translation squad on this movie. I know you mean “immoral” but you wrote “amoral” which is definitely not the same thing. People generally don’t get lectured “What you do is neither good nor bad, but simply is.”
This confrontation leads to an emotional breakdown.
Now I can’t stress this enough: This is a light hearted Rom-Com. Right after this scene Anatoli and Lyuda have a wacky first date that gets interrupted by his kids being a nightmare. Here’s a scene from the beginning.
This movie’s full of wacky bullshit. It’s a zany world, except for that one dark pocket known as Olga, to where all pain and suffering pools. Everybody hates her. She goes on a long soliloquy about how miserable she feels, and Yury tells her that he thinks she’s a real neat writer, but he doesn’t like her like that.
So, we’re really going to need to see something to get that redemptive arc. She hasn’t been very cunning to this point, but she’ll have to have a moment of inspirational glory to win back her respect.
She doesn’t. That’s pretty much the last that we see of her. It’s less like a character arc, and more like a plane crashing into the side of a mountain. In a Rom-Com.
One question remains: Why?
Here’s the thing, to the best of my knowledge this isn’t a documentary or a biopic. I would assume that this is a piece of fiction. Fiction is fairly malleable in terms of presenting the truth as a way of servicing your story. So why is Olga even here? To what end? Tonally this is a fairly by the books Rom-Com. And then there’s a B-story where a woman joylessly pursues a guy who isn’t into her, doesn’t grow fond of her, and eventually gets everybody to hate her. How is that consistent with a light hearted Rom-Com. I’m trying to picture the writer, Emil Braginskiy pitching this movie to the studio head. At one point he had to demand that they spend some time on a married woman who pursues a married man who is not into her, injects absolutely no humor into the movie, fails to establish herself as an antagonist, does nothing of note to actually win his love, has her love letters spread across the office, and ends the movie as an office pariah. She’s just a bummer who slows everything down and doesn’t need to be there. So why is she there.
This is the point where some die hards will write that her role is important because it’s how Anatoli realizes that Yury is actually a bad guy. Hey, here’s an idea: Write another way for him to discover that! It’s fiction. You can do whatever you want with it. Or spend some energy giving her a redemptive angle. Don’t just leave her there without any resolution, you maniacs. The most you could ever say about her is that she adds 15 minutes to the runtime.
I’m not going to lie to you folks, I struggle with Russian Cinema. But I have a theory. I think Russian filmmakers view happiness as a zero sum game. In order for one character to be happy, another has to suffer. But it can’t be a “villain.” That’d be too clean. It has to be another seemingly nice person, and you can tell which seemingly nice person it is, because they’re just a little bit more dull than the rest of the gang. In America we would have probably made Lyuda a little more sinister. The director would have wanted to convey that she was doing something wrong, because she was a bad, bad girl. And needed to be punished. In Russia they just say “Shit happens.” But all the while, as I watch the spark of hope and joy getting pissed out of Olga’s eyes, I can’t help but think that maybe the other characters, or the writer, or the director, or somebody, could have just let her know that this wasn’t her Rom-Com so that she could have reined it in just a little bit.
Still, it’s a charming movie.