Working Girl (1988)

22 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Working Girl” is an entertaining spin on the traditional story of a plucky young woman making it big in business, but only by bending the rules. The story is updated to 1988, when the movie was made, and made into a very funny, engaging comedy.

Melanie Griffith stars as Tess McGill, a secretary working on Wall Street at a mergers and acquisitions department. She’s a bright woman—smart and aggressive with some good ideas about how to make money in this business…if only she was in a position to state them. And even if she did, it’s unlikely that anyone would listen to her, since she has the verbal wit of a precocious little girl.

Tess gets a new job and a new boss—a woman her age named Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). They get along fine and Tess even shares some of her ideas with Katharine, who seems interested in what she’s saying. However, when Katharine breaks her leg (in one hilarious short scene featuring an unexpected scream) and is to be in traction for weeks, Tess is in possession of her computer files and comes across one of Tess’ own ideas, which Katharine was stealing to claim as her own.

Angered by her boss’ deception, she decides to create a little deception of her own. She is going to pose as a firm executive and meet up with another executive named Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to bring new ideas to life. They meet at a bar, without saying each other’s names (Tess says who she’s waiting for, and Jack decides to have some fun with this), and they get drunk and wind up in the same bed the next morning. Only at work does she realize who this guy is. However, despite Tess’ silly behavior that night, it turns out to be OK, since Jack likes Tess and he will take her ideas seriously.

So, you know the drill. Tess is continuing with the masquerade, keeping it a secret to Jack, despite their growing relationship. It’s only a matter of time before Katharine is able to come back to work and become a risk to Tess’ breakout, revealing the lie. And yes, we do get that obligatory “liar revealed” scene, in a boardroom with a lot of people, no less. It ends with shocking discoveries, a villain’s smirk, and walkouts, leading of course to scenes in which the heroine must question what to do now and…of course find a solution that will bring her back on top. The story is traditional, but updated with a quick-witted screenplay. However, a weakness with the film is that that “liar revealed” cliché is still played out just as idiotic as it almost always is in movies. But the movie saves itself with a line from Harrison Ford’s character that should have been used minutes ago, and leads to a climax that’s both suspenseful and satisfying.

While Melanie Griffith has received third billing in the credits (with Harrison Ford first and Sigourney Weaver second), this is really Tess’ story being told here. We see from her point of view and it’s really her journey that’s being shown here—her pluckiness, her mistakes, her ideas, her victories, etc. Griffith is an effective casting choice—fresh, likable, and funny. Meanwhile, Harrison Ford does fine work and shares good chemistry with Griffith, and Sigourney Weaver is great as the kind of villain (or villainess) you love to hate. Of the supporting cast, Joan Cusack, as Tess’ best friend Cyn, has some of the funniest lines in the movie, particularly in the scene when she poses as Tess’ secretary—“Anything I can get for you? Coffee, tea, me?”

If I’ve made “Working Girl” out to be a well-acted update on this standard story, I should also point out that this movie is really funny. There are hilarious one-liners delivered greatly, a lot of which centered around Tess’ naivety—for example, when she first meets Jack (without knowing who he really is), she states, “I have a head for business and a body for sin.” How can you not love that?

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