The Associate (1996) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Timothy Daly, Eli Wallach, Bebe Neuwirth, Austin Pendleton, Lainie Kazan, Colleen Camp (cameo), Allison Janney (cameo), Donald Trump (cameo)
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenplay: Nick Thiel (remake of the film, L'Associe, which was based on the novel, "El Socio", by Jenaro Prieto)
Review published November 14, 2006
Whoopi Goldberg (The Lion King, Rat Race) plays African-American woman Laurel Ayres, a hotshot Wall Street player that hits the glass ceiling in her company when her white male protégé (Daly, The Outsider) gets the big promotion over her. She quits out of pride to start her own company, but finds that making it in today's Wall Street as a black woman is a virtual impossibility without a white man at the head. Caught in a bind, Laurel invents a silent white male business partner named Robert S. Cutty, a strategy which works well until the men she deals with want to deal with Cutty directly, face to face, while the looming newspapers are swarming to meet Wall Street's newest genius, Robert Cutty.
The Associate has an air of familiarity to it that keeps it from being truly audacious, as Hollywood has already made a prominent film based on a similar premise in 1982's Oscar-winner, Tootsie. However, this isn't a rip-off of that film rather than a remake of an older film, the 1979 French film, L'Associe, although that film only had the invention of a fictional partner, without the gender and race elements that dominate much of the conflict in this American remake. As such, the film's themes regarding the stranglehold held in many pockets of the business world by old white males becomes the main focus in this farce, which gives the project the depth necessary to avoid being just another dumb sitcom premise for a wacky comedian.
If The Associate succeeds, it is largely due to Goldberg's natural charisma and energy, especially during a particularly funny scene where she must actually become Cutty is a very physical way in order to beat a murder rap. Despite the heaviness of the main themes of the inequality that still exists in the corporate world for women and minorities, this comedy never makes the fatal mistake of taking its premise too seriously to inspire laughs, with Donald Petrie revisiting territory he explored in Dana Carvey's mistaken identity comedy, Opportunity Knocks, and invisible partner premise in Richie Rich.
If you can play along with the main premise and excuse the lengthiness of this dessert flick, The Associate engages with a funny and often surprisingly smart (for a dumb comedy) execution which takes advantage of Goldberg's talent for playing different characters, especially in a satirical light. Most critics probably dump this in the trash heap that one can call Goldberg's comedic film career, but I personally think it's an underrated farce, and Whoopi has rarely been better in a comedy.
©2006 Vince Leo