The late Mike Nichols is a brilliant director. He is known for films like “The Graduate” and “The Birdcage.” I decided it was time to view Nichols’ 1988 film “Working Girl,” a funny and wonderfully acted film about women trying to make it ahead in the male dominated business world. Even if it means not playing fair.
Tess McGill (played terrifically by Melanie Griffith) is an ordinary, everyday secretary trying to make a living in New York City. She has a wonderful boyfriend, Mick Dugan (played by Alec Baldwin) and her best friend, Cyn (played by Joan Cusack). Tess dreams about making it big in the business world, but for now she must settle for secretary in a awful stock market environment.
When Tess’s boss, Lutz (played by Oliver Platt) tricks Tess into going out with a colleague, Bob (played briefly by Kevin Spacey), she decides she is done with the bullshit and is moving on to another position. She lands a job as a secretary for a financial executive, Katharine Parker (played by Sigourney Weaver). Things seem great between Tess and Katharine, and Tess finally thinks she found a boss that hears and respects her.
One day, Tess shares an idea with Katharine, suggesting that one of their clients, Trask Industries, should invest in radio to gain a foothold in media vs. TV. Katharine likes the idea and tells Tess she will pass it on to some people for review. Later on, Katharine tells Tess the idea wasn’t well received, and then Katharine breaks her leg in a skiing accident, that leaves Tess in charge to take care of a lot of Katharine’s little tasks.
When Tess has to go over to Katharine’s apartment to clean and take care of it, she stumbles across some notes on her computer that show Katharine trying to pass off Tess’s idea as her own. Angry with Katharine, Tess returns home to find Mick in bed with another woman. So Tess decides to return to Katharine’s apartment, live in it and begin a transformation into making people believe that she is someone else besides a secretary.
Tess begins her idea by setting up a meeting with executive Jack Trainer (played by Harrison Ford), convincing him that it was Katharine’s idea to let Tess take on the merger. Her plan is to meet him the night before at a company party, but meets another man instead who tells her Jack already left. Well, the truth is Jack is the man Tess met at the party, which makes for an awkward meeting the next day when Tess wakes up in Jack’s apartment in her underwear. However, the two of them decide to work together, while trying to keep love out of it. Of course that is hard to do when Jack is crazy about Tess.
As the film goes on, Tess and Jack crash Trask’s daughter’s wedding to pitch their plan, which ends up in Trask’s interest and a meeting setup. However, on the day of the meeting, Katharine returns home, which means Tess has to be very careful in making sure she doesn’t know what is going on. Katharine also has a love interest in Jack, which complicates the day of the meeting even more. The whole thing turns into chaos, but in the end Tess’s life ends up being very gratifying.
Melanie Griffith is adorable and smart as Tess. It makes you wish she hadn’t gotten all of that plastic surgery today. I believe she ruined not only herself, but her acting career. She could have been so much, especially since this role earned her only Oscar nomination today. Harrison Ford is solid as the male interest, but he takes a back seat to really let Griffith shine. Then there is the two supporting ladies (Sigourney Weaver and Joan Cusack), who also received Oscar nominations. I honestly have to say both of them are good, but I don’t get the whole nomination part. Sure, Cusack is funny and a great friend, but I felt like her role was limited. The same goes for Weaver. She is smart, but deceiving, but she spends most of her time in the hospital with limited screen time. 1989 must have been a slow year for films.
Mike Nichols direction is excellent, especially for 1988. He is still one of the masters today, and I wish we could have seen more of his work. “The Birdcage” is one of my all-time favorite films, thanks to Nichols. Plus, his last feature film, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” was terrific. The screenplay from Kevin Wade is also very good, even though it was not nominated for an Oscar. Wade is also known for writing film like “Maid in Manhattan.” Looking at his list of films, “Working Girl” is definitely his strongest work. It’s funny, smart and gives a good sense of women power, an issue that still rings true in the business world today.
“Working Girl” is a sharp film about the differences between not only men and women in the business world, but also what it takes to get ahead. Some times you have to take risks, and Melanie Griffith portrays those risks with brains and charm. Rated R.