, 113 min, 1988
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Kevin Wade (written by)
Stars: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a fun, sassy, romantic comedy which also works as an expose’ of life in the fast lane on the way to the top of the Manhattan business world. It centers on a performance by Melanie Griffith that is a pure delight.
Melanie Griffith is Tess McGill, an ambitious 30-year-old from Staten Island who is stuck in the rut of being a secretary. As the film opens, Tess quits her current job when a colleague (a thin Oliver Platt) urges her toward a meeting with a cocaine-snorting, lascivious creep (Kevin Spacey), which is not about moving ahead in business so much as a one-night-stand. Her secretarial pool supervisor (Olympia Dukakis, doing a bit part) reassigns her to a Wall Street firm’s Mergers & Acquistions department, where she comes face-to-face with her new boss, the formidable Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver, in full-on bitch in sheep’s clothing mode). Soon, Tess feels like she’s perhaps reached the pinnacle of her secretarial career, finally working in a friendly environment.
One day, Tess has a bright idea about a radio network merging with another company, and presents it (none-too-wisely) to her new boss. Katharine then goes to Switzerland and breaks a leg skiing, and it’s up to Tess to take care of her place while she’s gone. It’s there that she discovers the duplicity on her boss’s part, and her vindictive side/ambition comes out; no help that her snake boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) is caught in her bed sleeping with another girl from the neighborhood.
Soon, she’s pretending to be a high-powered mid-level executive, her friend Cyn (Joan Cusack) is giving her a “serious haircut,” and she’s crashing a party to present her proposal to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), the guy at the other firm to make her deal happen. He’s immediately attracted and takes her to his place, drunk; no hanky-panky, he says. She’s all about business, but how long will it take before that changes?
That’s just the beginning of this delightful little corporate comedy, the story of an ambitious and head-strong young woman finding her place in the world, and climbing up the corporate ladder over the collapsed shoulders of her evil superiors in order to do it.
Mike Nichols is a Hollywood legend beginning with such classics as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), and continuing on through with Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Silkwood (1983). He almost always directs with a sure hand and a light touch, and here, working from an original debut screenplay by Kevin Wade, he’s crafted a modern day fairy-tale for the real world. Ford is all charm and subtle sweetness, and Weaver is extraordinarily unlikable without ever losing her sex appeal.
The film has its true strength, however in Griffith – a sweet young face that is ideal for the transition from small town blond (“I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” she tells Jack in the early going) to big-time career woman. You will recall two of her first big roles in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (1986) and Brian DePalma’s Body Double(1984). Here, she is not stripped of her sexpot qualities, not at all (you can take the girl out of Staten Island, but you can’t take the Staten Island outta the girl) but the screenplay and the direction allow her to express an intelligence and grace that weren’t evident before. She makes this fly.