Working Girl (1988) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for brief nudity, language and adult situations
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack
Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Kevin Wade
Review published November 22, 2002
It's the little touches that makes an ordinary story better, and Working Girl's director Mike Nichols (Wolf, Closer) provides plenty of them. Subtle character touches, a few asides, and several moments of realistic drama goes a long way to turning an oft-told story into something entertaining and of substance. It also helps when you have credible and classy actors like Harrison Ford (Frantic, The Mosquito Coast) and Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Ghostbusters) to elevate the affair, and Melanie Griffith (Body Double, Another Day in Paradise), who exudes painful vulnerability in every frame, in what might be her finest performance as an actress.
Although billed third in the credits, Griffith is actually the main star, playing Tess McGill, who has plenty of ideas on making businesses successful but no voice, as she has bounced around in a variety of menial jobs. Given one last chance to prove herself, an agency places her as the assistant to Katherine Parker (Weaver), a New York exec who Tess admires for her making her feel important and ready to listen to any ideas Tess throws her way. It seems Tess has done her homework, and suggests that the company buy out radio stations to avoid a Japanese take over, because the FCC doesn't allow foreign ownership of American radio & TV. Katherine downplays the idea, but says she'll see if they'll bite, but later informs Tess they weren't interested. When Katherine is out with a broken leg, she asks Tess to keep an eye on things, and Tess discovers that Katherine is pushing her idea as her own without her knowledge. So Tess contacts mover-and-shaker Jack Trainer to assist in pitching a merger portraying herself as Katherine's business associate, while Jack has a secret tie to Katherine of his own.
Even though the far-fetched plot creates many forced and phony situations, the adept work by the lead performers is enough to give the semblance of credibility and finesse to make it fly. The screenplay is written by Kevin Wade (Mr. Baseball, Junior), who would later do a very similar plot for J.Lo's Maid in Manhattan, and provides a good platform for the talented performers to spring from, even if the script lacks the depth and cleverness that the stars are accustomed to. And of course, there's veteran Mike Nichols, who knows exactly the right tone for the right scene, and even if the film is mostly fluff entertainment, he makes it seem like something more than a forgettable farce.
Working Girl is good entertainment for anyone who likes the three main performers, all of whom do a fantastic job with what they have to work with. It's also a nice crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, although to some extent it is just a smarter version of Secret of My Success which was made just a year before. Though it doesn't score points for unpredictability or freshness, it's a lesson in efficient filmmaking. Working Girl works, and it works well.
©2002 Vince Leo