“Coffee Is for Closers”: The Influence of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

As everyone enjoys a cup of coffee today on National Coffee Day, we take a look back at one of the most iconic, quotable, and influential movies of the past few decades: Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s a movie about men being mean to one another in a high-pressure setting by writer and playwright David Mamet and director James Foley. It’s vulgar, abrasive, and unique.

The reason people still speak about this film is the dialogue and the performances. One scene has become the standout and an all-time favorite where Alec Baldwin eviscerates a room full of salesmen and forbids Jack Lemmon’s character from pouring himself a coffee. “Coffee is for closers”, he threatens, and classic cinema is born. It’s funny and brutal at the same time. Here are but a few of the examples in celluloid paying homage or flat-out stealing from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Gil Gunderson, The Simpsons

gil gunderson from The Simpsons sitting at his desk frustrated

Jack Lemmon’s portrayal of sad-sack salesman Shelley Levene was iconic. It was a portrayal of a man at the end of his rope and desperate to succeed at any cost. While circumstances and his co-workers conspire against him, it’s ultimately his own actions that lead to his undoing. Who would have known that this tour-de-force performance in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross would have an enduring legacy on one of the longest-running sitcoms of all time?

The Simpsons is arguably one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s a cultural touchstone and has served as a benchmark for both comedy and animation. The writers and showrunners had been well-versed in absorbing and tweaking their influences. They’ve also developed a deep bench of side and ancillary characters within the show’s universe.

In the ninth season, Marge became a realtor and, of course, wacky shenanigans ensued. One of her co-workers was a character named Gil Gunderson, a spot-on recreation of Jack Lemmon’s character. Frequently seen in (and failing in) several random jobs, good ol’ Gil became one of the many recurring characters that populate The Simpsons to this day. Coincidentally, Lemmon himself voiced a character the previous season with some obvious traits of Shelley Levene; however, this was a one-off guest appearance. [Bob Aquavia]

The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf of wall street leonardo dicaprio in office drinking coffee

Almost every fast-talking sales movie owes a debt to Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. However, few are as blatantly inspired as The Wolf of Wall Street. The Martin Scorsese film details the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a self-made man who knows the art of the con. While Wolf is based on the real-life Belfort’s autobiographical book, it’s hard not to wonder if he learned how to talk fast and talk smart by watching Glengarry Glen Ross.

The style of the two films is completely different, but Baldwin and DiCaprio’s performances are mirrors of one another. Both characters are more concerned with making the sale and closing it than anything else. Morality is a nuisance, and both live only for material goods. They thrive on power and wealth, disregarding anything else. These guys are sociopathic, greedy mad men who will stop at nothing to get what they want. [Danielle Ryan]

Boiler Room

boiler room ben affleck talks down to giovanni ribisi

Boiler Room is a fun movie, though, in many ways, it’s like a well-funded fan film based around Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street. At the least, it is to those movies as Young Guns was to classic Westerns. The “homage” comes to a head when they actually watch Wall Street in the movie and one scene when Ben Affleck almost single-handedly recreates Alec Baldwin’s speech. It’s a good scene but it lifts the intent, tone, and scenery-chewing nature of it all is 100% Glengarry.

A generation of salesmen uses Mamet’s film as inspiration and for measuring success. Boiler Room brought the next generation into the fold. As long as people have to make numbers using leads to make sales, the Glengarry Glen Ross legacy will continue. [Nick Nunziata]

The Lego Movie

lego movie batman in wayne manor drinking lego coffee

Want proof that Glengarry Glen Ross is one of the most pervasive pieces of art in our modern age? Look no further than it being referenced in the upcoming The Lego Batman Movie. Yes, in a film aimed at young children and featuring a comic book character that dresses up like a flying rodent, you will find a parody of David Mamet’s profanity-laden exploration of masculinity and sense of purpose.

The famous chalkboard scene involving Alec Baldwin’s aggressive mantra of “ABC – Always Be Closing” is lifted in The Lego Batman Movie as a joke about Bruce’s obsessive need to ABR – Always Be Recording. It’s a joke that no kids would even attempt at understanding the reference to, but all the adults in the audience will click instantly. It just goes to show that Glengarry Glen Ross has never really left the conversation, and it’s certain that it will continue to pop up in even more unlikely places. [Drew Dietsch]

Clerks

clerks convenience store fed up and laying his head on the counter

Though you might not see it in Yoga Hosers or Tusk, somewhere in the kernel of Kevin Smith is a pile of David Mamet plays. Mamet’s influence is most apparent in Smith’s Clerks. Long shifts in a central location (in this case, the Quick Stop) staffed by men, surrounded by cigarettes and coffee. Slacker dummies Dante Hicks and Randall Graves may not be the sharp-tongued salesmen of Glengarry Glen Ross, but their similarities are too many to go unnoticed.

Dante and Randall are frustrated and sick of taking crap from mouthy gum salesmen and flaky bosses. Their dialogue is just as stylized and R-rated as anything Mamet ever wrote. It’s less about Glengarry‘s alpha-masculine posturing and more about beta-masculine stereotypes.

The central pillars of Glengarry Glen Ross also support Clerks. They’re stories about working men who drive crummy cars and have heated discussions about their stations in life. The characters worry about their inadequacy as men and they feel especially inadequate when jerks like Blake (Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross) or Rick Derris (Ernest O’Donnell in Clerks) can walk into their lives and make them feel small. [Travis Newton]

National Coffee Day is Sept 29.


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