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‘Corner Office’ is a whip-smart satire of corporate structure, but doesn’t commit to the weirdness it strives for

John Hamm stars as the latest employee at The Authority in Joachim Back’s latest, but the Lionsgate dark comedy loses itself within its own mystery.

Lionsgate

The corporate setting depicted in Joachim Back’s Corner Office could be anywhere. Anytime the audience sees the outside of the complex, it’s from an aerial standpoint hovering over a snowy parking lot. Although there are different makes and models, you’ll feel a distinct lack of personality in each of these shots. Within the business hierarchy, there are plenty of ways you can satirize the callousness of employees trying to get ahead or some who would instead separate work from the personal. Shows like Severance have taken on this feeling in a Twilight-Zone-type way.

Based on Jonas Karlsson’s book, The Room, Corner Office peers through the eyes of one employee in particular. Orson (Jon Hamm) is identifiable by his black-rimmed glasses, thick mustache, and brown suits. It’s how he likes it as he starts a new job at The Authority. As voiceovers from Orson tell us, he doesn’t want to get into the weeds of work friendships and water cooler gossip. He comes off a bit judgy towards his co-workers. Orson admonishes his desk mate, Rakesh (Danny Pudi) for possibly having his files leak over to his side.

But Orson is a man on a mission – nothing possibly involving team building or laughing over a personal weekend mishap. He sticks to a routine that might align with his aspirations of climbing up the chain of command. But everybody can level with wanting a break from the grey walls and monotonous setting that an office can have – even someone as rigid as Orson. Within his breaks, he comes upon a hidden office with plants, a beautiful desk with a reclining chair, and enough paintings and artwork to make for a small exhibit. It’s his place of relaxation and respite that his stoic demeanor slightly comes down. The only problem is that this place makes his fellow workers uncomfortable – mainly because it doesn’t exist.

Ted Kupper’s screenplay provides a substantial amount of runway for Hamm’s vocal delivery and facial expressions to do much of the heavy lifting concerning the darkly comedic tone of Orson. It is funny to see him not be able to ignore a stain on a co-worker's shirt or plainly state his next set of actions. It’s in the progression of his characterization where things get lost in translation.

When it comes down to it, Orson doesn’t seem to know how to understand people as a whole. By the time there is a clue he might want to invest in something outside his bubble, it feels as though it happens too late within the narrative. On the one hand, Corner Office has to unveil the secret room's mysteries and its significance inside the company and Orson. As an aside, you might have a man who commits to walking alone because it’s just how the structure inside The Authority wants it to be.

Orson’s inner dialogue would make you believe he feels his actual being is better than this place. Despite this, Corner Office doesn’t explicitly lay out if this is because he fears his normality or that jobs like this reward a sense of self-assured pompousness. We’ve been in a space of culture where we are actively questioning what work means to us. Do we need to take these progressively long commutes and the need to commit to mental warfare to get the raises and positions we need? Orson seems to revel in it all, which runs opposed to the need for his safe place and his character's turn towards the third act.

Instead of committing to the sci-fi complexities it can venture towards, Corner Office looks to pull the emergency break on it all. In the end, you are left with two conclusions that both feel incomplete.