You know, maybe I
just don't like you.
Tess McGill and Jack Trainer
pitch their deal.
The original movie poster reminds us which architectural feature defined New York and the business world
--until it was gone.
Tess McGill is struggling. She's got "a head for business and a bod for sin," but no one seems to get past the bod. After Tess (Melanie Griffith) quits her latest secretarial job because her co-worker (Oliver Platt) sets her up with an arbitrager (Kevin Spacey) who's looking for a good time rather than a good assistant, she lands at a mergers and acquisitions firm under a female boss, Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). While pretending to be her mentor, Katherine steals an idea Tess suggested, so when the boss breaks her leg on a ski trip and is out of action for a few weeks, Tess takes revenge by pretending she has her boss's job. She even connects with another dealmaker, Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), who helps her put it together.
My favorite sequence is the one following her night at a reception. The man she drinks with, Jack Trainer, won't tell Tess his name. She tells him she's trying to meet Jack Trainer, who she is scheduled to pitch the next morning. She has a little too much to drink and Jack has to carry her home. She wakes up in his bed, sneaks out, and later manages to pitch the deal to -- the man she drank with the night before! Later, Tess confronts Jack in her (or rather Katherine's) office:
What did happen, exactly?
The earth moved. The angels wept. The Polaroids are, are, uh... (gropes in his coat pockets) are in my other coat. (grins) Nothing happened. Nothing happened!
And he wants to do the deal. But things start going astray. Tess discovers her boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) cheating on her and becomes homeless. She falls in love with Jack -- only to find that he hasn't quite broken off his relationship with another woman... her boss. And the deal starts to come apart when Katherine returns unexpectedly and discovers Tess's ruse.
There's great comedy and great chemistry in this cast, under the skilled direction of Mike Nichols. The scenes between between Griffith and Ford sizzle. Weaver, as the two-faced boss, is clever, disarming, and makes you want to hiss. Rounding out the ensemble are well-crafted supporting performances from Joan Cusack (as best friend Cyn), Olympia Dukakis, and Philip Bosco. The jarring opening song, "Let the River Run," by Carly Simon, won the film's only Oscar, though Chris DeBurgh's "Lady In Red" was also memorable. Melanie Griffith was nominated for best actress and this was a brreakthrough film for her, on the heels of Body Double.
Working Girl works well as a comedy -- a Cinderella fantasy about a woman making it in a man's world. As Tess points out...
(pretending to be her boss) I know what I'm doing.
And later on...
Yeah, screwing up your life.
No, I'm trying to make it better. I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, OK?
You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules.
While not as hard-line feminist and preachy as it might have been -- and that would have spoiled the fun -- I wanted to cheer at the end. If anyone deserves to win, it's Tess McGill. But if you think the business world is rough on women, you should try the film industry!
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.
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