Best Picture Profile: Working Girl

Directed by: Mike Nichols

Company: 20th Century Fox

Runtime: 113 minutes


Is there a film that just makes you want to be there and to celebrate? Is there a film that you just can’t skip once it started already?

The film is about Tess McGill, a night school graduate that gets fired after she embarrassed her boss due to the fact that they were just setting her up like they cannot take her seriously. As her last chance, she gets her job as a secretary to an inspiring and somewhat powerful executive named Katherine Parker. She becomes her mentor as everyday, she inspires her. Now, as Katherine wants suggestions, Tess suggests the company to have radio acquisition, but Katherine replies that the idea was not accepted.

Unfortunately, in a skiing resort, Katherine got a broken leg and needs to stay there for two weeks, leaving Tess with no choice but to take over with the work she needs to do. In the process, she finds out that Katherine indeed proposed the idea and was into the process of working it out with a man, proclaiming that it was her idea. Of course, she was downhearted. Added to that, she saw her fiancée having sex with a friend. She’s lost in the city, only having her friend Cyn to help her.

When she needs to attend some business party, she meets a man, gets drunk with him, and sleeps with him. The next day, she runs to her office to meet people for her to propose the idea to men in charge. There, she meets the man she was with last night, Jack Trainer.

Her idea was rejected. But when he returns to meet her, she asks her friend to act as her secretary. They work with idea, but with it is her slow fall into the hands of the business. She has no time for herself, she disagrees with her best friend and she talks like she’s the one really in the office. Now, Katherine comes back and she is set to have the biggest surprise of her life.

Well, all I could say is that this is one of the most enjoyable movies ever made.

The direction is, I guess, one of the best ones in a contemporary movie. It goes like a clock: it just ticks and ticks, it excites you, and when you reach the end, you realize it’s not the end yet. I mean, it’s unexplainable. It moves in a way that it’s so fast, like the business world itself, but it gives you that whole moving time to absorb the thing. The director makes the wisest choices possible in order to make this as compelling as possible.

People are attacking this as dated. But when I am watching this every time again and again, it’s just so fresh. The direction takes no prisoners in making this a contemporary classic. He knows that there will be a future audience to watch this, but he also wants to make a mark saying that the era is present. And with its masterful direction, it gives us a feeling of being there.

The screenplay is all-around effective. The people there are in the business mood, and they are in this business world, thus they do many business talk. But unlike the badly aged Wall Street, it doesn’t eat up its time being too smart in it. Working Girl shows us how the business affects the characters. Sure, the characters also do a lot of talk about acquisitions and business deals and things, but it doesn’t try to bloat us with these terms. Instead, we relate to that because we first identify with the characters doing that.

Also, the screenplay is really good in the character construction because all of them are very humane and real. No one’s a caricature, all human.

With Tess, the main character, she slowly develops into this person that fights for her rights and for herself simply because she needs to. She has an idea, her boss stole it, it’s her right to get the deal set with he in it. And we depend on her because of that.

Here, we get into the other side of the character: she lies. She did the right thing through the wrong way. Confusing, huh? Well, I’d try to explain it. Her boss lied to her, and she knows nobody would listen to her if she was just a secretary because she’s not as trusted as the boss. So, she risks her friends, love, job, and even dignity just to fight for her rights by imposing herself as the boss once her boss was absent. Get it? She cannot fight the right way, so she does some very flawed decisions in order to fight for herself.

Maybe some would call her selfish, but come on. She has dreams, and most of the time, she’s being belittled by how she is. The way she talks, the educations she got – people find everything to fault on her. And she has been fooled for many times. And in this time, she knows it’s life or death, so she practically risked herself.

And that’s what makes me love more in the screenplay. The characters are good-willed, but flawed. And they’re real. So, there you go.

The technical parts are really good: cinematography was excellent, especially in the book-ending scenes, editing was flawless, sound was good, production is current but plausible.

But before the lengthy discussion about one facet of the movie, let me just say that the music is one of the most successful a contemporary movie ever had. It brings you to the skies, uplifting and inspiring you. And the theme song is classic!

Now, here is the most crucial part of it – acting.

Melanie Griffith is all around fantastic as the character. I repeat, you are not mistaken, fantastic. She gives us a performance that makes us care for the character. Right from the start, we hear that cute little voice by her, we see a character that’s amusing but at the same time, real. I’m always repeating the world real in this movie but it’s what the movie really is.

She is in a world she is trying to cope up with – she has a boyfriend who suggestively uses her, a friend she can count on, a boss that inspires her, and a lover that she can depend on. And, like me, she’s in a fast world. And, with her, we are on a quick journey. And we relate to her. And besides technicality, which is quite absent here, what we have here is an actress who delivered a fantastic performance as she made full emotional connection with the one she needs to connect with – the audience.

It’s comedy done great, drama handled well, and brilliance exemplified. And her greatest scene is when she finds out that her boss already stole her idea. I mean, that wasn’t really a big scene, just a brief one, but it’s Griffith’s best scene because with just one word she reacts in – radio – there is this already natural and sudden shift of expression. Maybe not all were impressed by this scene, but it’s a captivating moment of shock. We’re surprised that she stole the idea, but it’s Griffith’s genuine reaction to the situation is to be cherished.

Also, people are complaining about her recurring throat clearing, tagging this as a frog on her throat. Truth be told, it’s really unnoticeable when you are watching it. And it gives us the character’s feeling of insecurity. I don’t know. She knows she doesn’t fit that well in that place as an impostor and I feel that with that frog in her throat. And it’s not distracting, in any way.

She embodies strength, vulnerability, dedication, fragility, all in one, making one of cinema’s best independent women.

Joan Cusack is also great here. People are saying that this is one of those scene-stealing performances nominated in the supporting actress category. At first glance, you might say that, but when you analyze her performance, it just so happened that she was so in his character. Maybe she’s the one that will stick in your mind after the movie. Why? Is it because of that big hair, amazing eye shadow, and wowing accessories? Maybe that contributed. She was an ordinary 80’s girl. But for me, it’s because she was just very ‘in-character.’

There’s this scene that she was saying her regrets and doubts to Tess after she saw the outcome of her slow transformation as she climbs the business ladder. It’s a quiet delivery of words when she compares herself to Madonna. And it hits Tess on a gut level. And it’s so real and believable because of Cusack’s sharp delivery of lines.

A lot has been said about her character being a mere sidekick. But I’m telling you: she gives us one of the purest examples of real friends in movies and not just sidekicks. Plus, she was given that simple but important job of opening and closing the movie. She anchors this 80’s spirit that should be present all throughout the film. With just those outfit…..

Sigourney Weaver is remarkable as Katherine, the deceiving mentor-to-be of Tess. Her subtle work at the start of the film is just fun to watch. I mean she’s kind, but powerful. I also think that she is the character with the best entrance here. People suddenly go quiet when they hear the elevator. As Tess looks at her, she sees and we see this women with coat and office attire with those killer shoulder pads, her distinctive height, and the way air moves through her, turning her into this big image and epitome of a high-class working girl.

And as she gets bed ridden, what we see is a woman spoiled by the leisure of life, a woman not afraid to lose anything just to have pleasure.

As she progresses in the film, and as her evil plan slowly sheds of its coverings, so is her nice approach to Tess. And in the end, we see this manipulative monster of an executive, ready to eat anybody blocking her way to do what she thinks would better her position in the business.

In this way, we see how a social-climbing woman with no good will and her slow downfall. And it’s all played wonderfully by Weaver.

Closing the primary cast is Harrison Ford as the charming man both Katherine and Tess falls in love with. It’s not as complicated as the three previous characters, but he needs to carry this masculine presence in this film since business world is no business world without men. Not being sexist, but it’s a truth existing in or world. His accomplishment is that he was able to bring this soul to a degree of reality because just one little mistake and we are off to have our good-old cliché of a prince charming.

The other members of the cast make this world of Tess completely vibrant and catchy. Some of them have smaller parts than the others, but were able to make  a lasting impact. I’m talking about Kevin Spacey as the cocaine-snorting Bob Speck. In just one hilarious scene, we are able to have this glimpse of this guy’s crazy life. It’s the screenplay’s compliment too, but Spacey doesn’t bring it to a point where it’s just a mere comic sketch. In contrast to that, he is used to move Tess’ background forward for us to see what she really is and what she had become after the process.

And for the count: It’s smart, it’s full of romance, it’s funny in a meaningful way, and the drama is effective, thus making this a pure examples of smart romantic-comedy-drama.

All of deserving praises are already bestowed upon this great classic. And I am looking forward for a future rewatching of this gem.

For this, the movie obviously gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

4 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Working Girl

    • I’m glad we agree on one point – it’s a big big pleasure to watch.

      It’s so entertaining. But I think it’s serious enough for it’s genre. Like Moonstruck, it’s very fun, but it’s mature and smart, and that’s what makes them the”against-type” rom-coms. For me, they are rom-coms to be taken seriously and to be respected.

      It’s cool, sometimes too cool. And it even gains the reputation of being lightweight. But haven’t the Academy always do that? Juno? Little Miss Sunshine? The Blind Side?

      I don’t think there is really anything wrong with that, as long as it gives me quality time and it deserves some recognition, it’s fine with me.

      Again, I’m really really glad to find one soul that likes this film. Everybody hates it because of the hair!


  1. Great review! Our thoughts are exactly the opposite though: I thought the movie was boring and lifeless, Griffith did nothing good, and Cusack and Weaver were entertaining, but I didn’t love them.

    But I’m glad you like it!


    • Thanks joe!

      I’m glad that you liked my review even though you didn’t like the movie per se. It’s really nice to compare thoughts with others. Hope you’ll like it when you have the chance to rewatch it!


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