Working Girl (1988)
Release Date: December 21st, 1988 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mike Nichols Actors: Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Philip Bosco, Nora Dunn, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Olympia Dukakis
orking Girl” is instantly dated with aurally assaulting ‘80s music (tambourines, trumpets, and ceaseless accompaniment, most of which involves vocals), ‘80s hair, and ‘80s verbiage. The clothing is also conspicuous, but easier to ignore. The specifically female-oriented viewpoint isn’t as dismissible, but thanks to an outstanding cast and sharp scripting, the film is highly entertaining for both sexes, distinctly separating it from the chick-flick crowd to become one of those rare adult comedies that snagged an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (as well as Best Director for Mike Nichols, an Oscar favorite since 1967’s “The Graduate”).
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is the secretary for a stockbroker in a successful investment firm. Due to a lack of necessary schooling, the tough competition, and the fact that she’s a headstrong (although soft-spoken) woman, she’s unable to break ahead of mere secretarial work. After an embarrassing episode with a sleazy executive, she transfers to the Mergers & Acquisitions division of Petty Marsh to work for Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), an intelligent, business-oriented, accomplished, methodical, and organized woman. Parker insists that their relationship is a “two-way street,” in which Tess can share her ideas and Katharine will run them by her own superiors. Unfortunately, Parker is too concerned with her personal advancement and financial success, resorting to stealing Tess’ best idea (regarding wealthy company Trask Industries purchasing a radio network to slowly edge their way into the television broadcasting market while avoiding a foreign buyout).
When Katharine breaks her leg skiing and is held up for two weeks, Tess discovers the backstabbing ploy and decides to assume Katharine’s job (although, in an interesting twist of momentary reality, not her identity). She approaches business expert Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to assist her with setting up the deal and must continue to elaborate upon her charade with fictional connections and spunky attitude to get the ball rolling. But as with all complex movie switches, the fantasy will eventually be shattered.
The standard role reversals are more deliciously intricate than in typical teen-oriented fantasies. “Working Girl” attempts to make the implausible premise largely believable, chiefly by surrounding it in a very grown-up, adult-filled environment. What could have been goofy is instead quite heartfelt. The cleverness doesn’t stop there, motivated by a flirty, comedic, witty, poignant screenplay of romance, triumphs, business wheeling-and-dealing, and catastrophes (comparable and contrastable in many ways to “All About Eve”). Fortunately, while it works to create highs and lows for the dynamic characters, it never tries to be too dark, even though audiences will suspect an appropriately mature resolution for the setup. “Working Girl” also features a notable cast of complementing actors, including Kevin Spacey as a coke-snorting executive, Alec Baldwin as Tess’ boyfriend, Oliver Platt as her pathetic boss, Olympia Dukakis as the personnel director, and Joan Cusack in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance as the spirited best friend.
– Mike Massie