Sunday, May 29, 2011

Looking Back: Working Girl

(dir. Mike Nichols, 1988)

I've spent years trying to locate this movie and watch it.  No, I admit that it's not the hardest movie to find, but I could just never get a hold of it on Netflix or the library or whatever.  And finally it appeared on Instant Queue and my long wait was finally over (merely by saying "Honey, Harrison Ford is in it," I convinced my fiancée to sit down and watch it with me).

It's the late 1980s and hotheaded-yet-business-savvy Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is struggling to be more than just a peace of meat in the fast-paced world of New York business.  After calling her boss (a thin Oliver Platt) a pimp, she's relocated to the office of shrewd, shoulder-pad wearing Katharine Parker (played brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver).  Weaver at first seems to be a kind boss, and in fact if I didn't know she was supposed to turn out evil, that slow section of the film would have been devoid of tension.  But it was just waiting for Weaver to do something bad or act like a witch, which she finally does after being betrayed by McGill.  When Katharine breaks her leg skiing, our secretary cum Wall Street virtuoso takes over her office and begins to set in motion a brilliant business acquisition (originally her idea) which Katharine had tried to deflate and secretly steal.  Oh, and along the way she falls in love with Jack Trainer, a sleepwalking Harrison Ford.

You always hear Working Girl references as being very, very 80s in both fashion and design.  After watching the whole thing, I'm less shocked and more flabbergasted that it was so beloved at the 1988 Academy Awards. I hardly find anything to dislike about a film that's nominated for some kind of Oscar; I may not love every film nominated, but I can at least appreciate why some people like it, but about this film, I have nothing good to say.

Well, Weaver was good.  But the buck stops there. Oh, and the song "Let the River Run" by Carly Simon.  There was one particularly good scene at the beginning of the film, where Griffith is set up with a trashy businessman perfectly played by an ageless Kevin Spacey.

"You SLUT!"
How this was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and three acting races is a little beyond me. Griffith seemed like she was lost without a paddle the entire time, and not just because she was a woman in a man's world but because she was put in the precarious potion of having to act.  Maybe it was partially due to Kevin Wade's comically atrocious dialog, but Griffith's emotional range never rose above mildly irked.  Whenever something huge or stressful would happen in the character's life, all Griffith could muster was a banal "Okay" or "Snake" before hanging up the phone or calmly turning around.  I rarely say this, but it really felt as though she was merely...saying lines the whole time, and trying to remember them halfway through saying them.

Joan Cusack and Harrison Ford were both criminally underused and hardly present.  Ford's allotted one good scene, and after that the rest of his character and thereby his performance are nothing short of predictable. Cusack could have had a juicy part, but really is only able to shine in one scene that takes place about halfway into the film; after that, she basically disappears and Griffith's full lingerie set becomes her new sidekick.

The most painful part for me, though, was that no one changed in the film.  No character has an arch, there's very little evolution.  At the beginning, McGill was tough-headed and business-minded, and at the end she still is, but the only difference is people's perception of her.  Ford's character certainly doesn't change, since he's never painted as anything close to the other Wall Street snakes in the film, so when he has a heart of gold at the end there's no big reveal there (he doesn't even sleep with Griffith the night the drunkenly meet and she sleeps over).  Cusack's Cyn isn't carefully imagined enough by the screenwriter to even have a change, so the only thing that evolves on her is the amount of eyeliner and hairspray she uses.  Not even Weaver could manage an arch; witch at the beginning and witch at the end.  This, I think, is why I couldn't care about any character...they were just all so flat and boring.  This movie was about a working girl, but it's a movie that needs a lot of work to get through.  The costumes are the highlights.  GRADE: D-


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