The Working Class Goes To Heaven
May 1, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Happy May 1, everyone! Movie questions - I'm putting together a film series showing radical comedy about being working class/pink collar/lower-middle-class, mostly drawn from the sixties, seventies and early eighties. Or at least I hope I am - this was inspired by realizing how great 9 to 5 is and a vague memory of seeing reruns of other movies with a similar sensibility on the late show in the late eighties and early nineties.

It seems like in the seventies there was this film/TV moment where it was possible to tell stories from a radical working class standpoint (even Hill Street Blues, although it's about cops, is basically about cops-as-working-people, instead of cops-as-American-Heroes-With-Power). I was pretty young when I watched all this stuff, but I remember stories that emphasized how regular working people lived in terms of housing, clothes and appearance and that took a seriously critical position about work - not films where the hero is rewarded by climbing out of the working class, or where the hero is against the other working people, who are depicted as bad and lazy.

So anyway, 9 to 5 is ideal - it's hiLARious, it has Dolly Parton, it's feminist and it talks about how regular working women/people experienced work. (Also, it isn't built around a romance.)

So what else is out there?*

Second question - there's this sixties British satirical comedy about a noble who becomes convinced that he's Jesus and falls in with a bunch of hippies. It sounds great, but I've only read about it on the internet and cannot remember what it is called. Anyone?

*Not creepily sexist or having homophobia as a major plot point; points for films that center people of color; plot should center around work or being working class. Also, Office Space and Clerks are not what I want to show - they aren't thoughtful in the way that 9 to 5is, somehow, and they don't have strong women characters.
posted by Frowner to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Roseanne is the gold standard, I think.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:36 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Ruling Class (1972)
posted by plokent at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

They Live is a great working-class dark comedy, in my opinion, though maybe you're looking for more realism.
posted by enn at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2012

Are you looking for films only? If not, what about "One Day at a Time"? The comical but slightly realistic struggles of a (gasp!) single working mother. And that reminds me of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the film, which is worthwhile and thus relevant, unlike Alice, the TV show.
posted by scratch at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2012

What a great question!

I found the more recent film, Sunshine Cleaning to be a vastly underrated movie.

There's also a comedy about a strike in a Los Angeles hotel, but I forget the name.

You might also look at some Eastern Bloc comedies, although it's harder to say whether it's "working class," per se. Often everyone except state officials is a worker, and so in that sense they're working class, but they also are often displaced petty bourgeois, so... But The Legend of Paul and Paula and Larks on a String come to mind.

I also recommend this book, by Tom Zaniello. It's an annotated bibliography of labor films, very complete.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Made in Dagenham! It's about the women working at a Ford factory going on strike to get equal wages with the men.
posted by kyla at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, we shouldn't forget Modern Times!
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2012

I just found a recent article on slapstick and the working class.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:29 AM on May 1, 2012

Take This Job and Shove It! is not a good movie, but may meet your other requirements.
posted by emjaybee at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2012

Early Simpsons episodes actually fit this theme quite well. I'm sure there are plenty of examples, but the first one that came to mind was And Maggie Makes Three.
posted by susanvance at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2012

Blue Collar is a classic; not a comedy but has everyday humour. Gender politics not up to much as I recall but not actively offensive.
posted by Abiezer at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first part of 5 Easy Pieces is pretty great for this, plus its a freaking outstanding movie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Barney Miller
posted by plokent at 8:50 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Working Girl...classic!
posted by bmorrison at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fantastic idea; please post your final lineup!

The Last Detail has comic elements, but no one goes to heaven, unfortunately! I'm with the other commenters who think that '70s TV covered this angle better; a lot of films about working-class people made for theatrical release were more realistic than comedic in tone.

You might want to give À nous la liberté a try. Someone does escape from the working class in that film, but not in the typical Hollywood fashion. And it has music!
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2012

Gung Ho, Tin Men
posted by Ideefixe at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2012

Seconding Gung Ho.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2012

Seconding Working Girl, though it may be a bit later vintage than you're looking for

How To Beat The High Cost of Living doesn't take place in a workplace (the main characters are housewives), but otherwise hits what you're looking for. I haven't seen it since I was 11 or so, so I can't guarantee if it is actually as funny as I remember it to be.

Ruthless People is dark and hysterical, but again not set in a workplace (though there are scenes in the Best-Buy type store where one Judge Reinhold's character sells stereos). But it definitely explores working-class issues from a radical perspective.
posted by Mchelly at 9:54 AM on May 1, 2012

Mr. Mom
posted by Gungho at 9:55 AM on May 1, 2012

All in the Family (particularly in the early episodes) deals with a lot of blue collar issues. The Jeffersons and Good Times also dealt with a lot social/labor related issues.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2012

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) and the TV series Alice.
posted by plokent at 11:17 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Claudine (1974) is a great and underrated drama (with comedic shading) about black working class life and politics. It does center on a romance, but that's part of what makes it political (lots of reckoning about how to do things properly with regard to the welfare system and managing family life).
posted by bubukaba at 11:44 AM on May 1, 2012

Coming to America is awesome, not sure if it fits your criteria. Prince comes to america and poses as working class citizen (mops floors, etc.) A bit of romance but it is what it is.

The Associate isn't exactly about working class people. But Dianne Weist plays a central roll and her roll is working class (secretary) and how she's capable of so much more. And of course there's Whoopi who is an amazing Analyst but no one takes her seriously because she's a woman. Again maybe not exactly your criteria, but I think you'll enjoy it.
posted by one4themoment at 9:01 PM on May 1, 2012

And if you're a Dolly Parton fan, you can't go wrong with Straight Talk. Amazing movie, one of my goto 'feel good' movies. Without trying to ruin it, it's basically 'success' vs 'morals'....
posted by one4themoment at 9:04 PM on May 1, 2012

Sorry I could go on all night, but Real Women Have Curves is also an awesome movie. Ugly Betty before she was ugly betty. Immigrant women working in a sweatshop. Not appreciated for what they do, they don't appreciate how America Ferrera views life, a bunch of working women some satistified and proud of what they do but not who they are.

Hope I've struck a chord with at least one of the movies I've suggested. Good luck viewing! Lots of great suggestions in here.
posted by one4themoment at 9:10 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Swear I'm going to stop after this one, but Dear God is all about working class people who make a difference, and the people that end up supporting them. The main character does it for all of the wrong reasons of course. Might be a bit of a stretch to your question. But something you might enjoy. And it focuses on working class people helping other working class people. The maid substory always gets me a little. :) (Seriously I could go on all night... memail me if anything I've posted peaks your interest and I'll put together a movie list for you!)
posted by one4themoment at 9:18 PM on May 1, 2012

Although I have not seen it, Norma Rae seems that it would fit the bill?
posted by thebrokedown at 10:12 PM on May 1, 2012

Not a comedy, but an interesting film that has a unique outlook (in my untutored view)

Chance Of A Lifetime.

If you can't find a copy to buy I'm pretty sure I've got a copy somewhere i can send you.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 7:45 AM on May 2, 2012

The Toy might fit. Although it describes a humorous situation, I think it discusses the issue of working class vs privileged class as well as it can.
posted by kookywon at 2:31 PM on May 2, 2012

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