Working Girl

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Working Girl
"Its deft handling of feminist issues make it all the more ironic that it has been dismissed as trivial when in many ways it's the female equivalent of Wall Street."

Many of the Eighties films that are most popular today were not big hits in their time; we're all familiar with cult hits that gather fans over time. Working Girl, curiously, is the opposite. Marketed as a lightweight romantic comedy, it enjoyed great success when it came out but within a year it had been dismissed by most people as fluff not worth remembering. Look beneath the surface, however, and you'll find that it's a film with a lot more going on. Its deft handling of feminist issues make it all the more ironic that it has been dismissed as trivial when in many ways it's the female equivalent of Wall Street.

There may be no Michael Douglas here but Sigourney Weaver is more than capable of filling that gap, albeit in a very different way. She's the kind of super-efficient boss whose professionalism can seem intimidating at first, but it soon emerges that she's also capable of being kind and warm toward her staff - or at least that's how it seems. Melanie Griffiths is the business ingenue whose performance here ought to have made her a star, but perhaps she comes across as just a little too meek, a fragile soul who would seem less out of place in a high school drama but who represents very effectively the way many people feel in the early stages of their career, when talent seems to mean very little in comparison to reputation. Alongside them, Harrison Ford plays the love interest and potential source of opportunity, in an understated turn few actors with his clout would have agreed to at the time. Though retaining his characteristic charm and wit, he sits quietly in the background for most of the film, making room for the women to command the screen.

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With a central plot that hinges on trading in shares, the film is very successful both in holding viewer interest and in making financial concepts accessible; ironically, it may be this that has led it to be taken less seriously, as other films about finance often treat it as unknowable magic (or, like Trading Places, plunge viewers in at the deep end and leave many of them floundering). The much vaunted romance is really a subplot, and is also secondary to Griffiths' character's journey of self-discovery.

The danger with this storyline is that there are a limited number of ways it can develop. Writer Wade works around this by building more substance into minor aspects on the story. Our young heroine's boyfriend is a waste of space familiar from the popular comedies of the time, but well written and sympathetically played; there is no suggestion that leaving somebody behind can ever be done without cruelty. Though Weaver, at times, hams up her role as a monster who finds her modern equivalent in Meryl Streep's The Devil Wears Prada creation, she also lets us see something of how the monster came into existence, of the ruthlessness she has needed to get ahead in what is still, despite the sequins and the shoulderpads, very much a man's world. It's no accident that Ford'ss character, in the end, finds it in his gift to decide which of these women will triumph over the other.

Reflecting these ideas, Working Girl delivers one of the best final shots in film history, brutally putting everything else in the film into perspective. Along with the title, its connotations still acute, it suggests that ultimately this is a film about illusions. As we wonder if any woman really can become a success, we might also be wondering if any man can either. Perhaps that's a natural consequence of a system built around unreal money. As such, it presents us with perhaps the bleakest political statement in any Nichols film, dressed up with the trappings of romance.

Reviewed on: 17 Jan 2015
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Working Girl packshot
A humble secretary, betrayed by her boss, makes the most of a brief time left in charge to pursue her own ambitions in the world of high finance.

Director: Mike Nichols

Writer: Kevin Wade

Starring: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver

Year: 1988

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2015
BIFF 2016

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