Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Film Night : : Working Girl

This Friday at The Pink Heart Society columnist Anne McAllister talks to us about the eighties movie that has become a classic - Working Girl...
Twenty years! It's been twenty years since Working Girl hit the silver screen. Time flies when you're writing books.

But because it has always lingered somewhere in the back of my mind as a movie that made me smile (as Harrison Ford did very well in those days) I thought now would be a good time to revisit.

So I did. It still makes me smile.

There is a twinge, of course, when nearly the first shot in the film is a pan up of the Staten Island ferry as it heads toward Manhattan where the World Trade Center looms in the skyline.

It was a simpler, more innocent time in 1988.

And Working Girl is a fairy tale to fit it.

It's the story of Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a secretary with, in her own words, "a bod for sin," but who also has a sharp creative mind to go with it. Not that she gets any credit for that -- or for the night school courses she is taking to better herself.

All anyone sees are her curves -- and her hair. Ah, the hair. It is such wonderfully "80's" hair -- and then some. It both defines where Tess is coming from and what is holding her back.

She needs "serious hair," her new boss tells her. "And lose the jewelry."

Catherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) is this new boss, and she is everything Tess wants to become. She's smart, friendly, says all the right things and encourages Tess to share her ideas, promising to make sure she's taken seriously.

Certainly Catherine takes one of them seriously -- steals it, in fact -- and proceeds to set up a meeting with investment banker Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to put the wheels in motion to do a deal based on it without giving Tess credit.

But justice prevails. And when Catherine breaks her leg and is incapacitated (it couldn't happen to a nicer woman!) Tess discovers Catherine's deception.

Catherine's duplicity gives Tess license to do a bit of deceiving of her own -- and while Catherine is out of commission, she steps in, anoints herself Catherine's assistant, and brings the deal to Jack herself.

Melanie Griffith does a superb job of playing the conflicted yet determined Tess. A woman with her feet in two worlds, outgrowing one, yet still not accepted by the other, she is battling inner demons as well as the expectations of her friends.

A sometimes slimy yet sometimes sympathetic boyfriend, Mick (Alec Baldwin), who sees her slipping away from him, is the man who shares her past. Jack Trainer, who doesn't know who she really is, might be the man of her future.

Cyn (Joan Cusack), Tess's best friend, thinks she's absolutely crazy to be taking these risks and wanting to step out of her comfort zone. Yet at the same time she's torn, she's supportive -- as the best of friends can be. And she has even more amazing hair than Tess!

The story goes down the predictable path to a comeuppance for Catherine and a good job and a happily ever after for Tess with Jack (you knew that, didn't you?).

But, as with the best romance novels, the payoff isn't the ending, it's the journey you take to get there.

For all that it was a 'romantic comedy,' quite a few of Hollywood's big guns were involved. It was directed by legendary Mike Nichols, who got an Academy Award nomination for his work, from a script by Kevin Wade.

It garnered five other Oscar nominations besides Nichols's -- Melanie Griffith for Best Actress, both Joan Cusack and Sigourney Weaver for Best Supporting Actress, Douglas Wick, the producer of Working Girl for Best Picture, and Carly Simon for Best Original Music, the song, Let The River Run, which actually won the award. Not bad. Not bad at all.

It's a fun film. It's fun to watch Tess transform herself, charm Jack, get tough, take on big business at the same time she's still battling her own insecurities. It's fun to watch Jack, world-weary, hard-working, and with just the tiniest bit of insecurity himself, find a woman who isn't an automaton and warm up to her.

It's great fun to watch Cyn be outrageous and Catherine be smug -- especially when you know Cyn is so genuine and Catherine will get hers in the end. It's fun to watch Kevin Spacey in a brief cameo try to put the moves on Tess.

It's not rocket science. It's not grim. It's not guaranteed to raise your IQ. But chances are it will make you smile. It will make you cheer for Tess and delight when virtue (well, with just a bit of deception) and hard work are rewarded.

It will make you appreciate the low-key ironic hero that Harrison Ford has done so well. Alpha? Not precisely. But all the more appealing because of his understated approach. Besides, he got the job done. And he got the girl.

Rent it. Break out the popcorn. Be prepared to smile.

Anne McAllister thinks there's a lot to be said for the beleaguered hero. She's got one coming out in March in One-Night Love Child from Harlequin Presents -- an Irish earl with a 500 year old castle crumbling down around his ears, lots of problems only he can solve -- once he figures out how to solve them (or gets the right woman who can help him. Imagine that.).

Stop by
her website if you want to read an excerpt. And visit her blog where there is an ongoing discussion about what makes a hero.


  1. This is one of my all-time faves too!

  2. Anne,

    I'm so glad you blogged about this. I haven't seen 'Working Girl' in almost 20 years. Now I'm enthused to go and hunt down a copy. Wish me luck!


  3. Love, love, love this movie Anne! It';s one I pop in the DVD player all the time. Melanie Griffith is charming, Sigourney Weaver beautifully horrible, and Harrison Ford is delicious.

    Excellent choice!


  4. I loved Working Girl. It was a sleeper hit.
    And they had to change the poster. In the orginal one, Melanie Girffith was peekout from behind Sigourney Weaver.

    I think Harrison Ford embodied quite a few characteristics of the alpha hero but he was not the main drive of the plot as it was also a transformation story.

  5. I love this film! But, heck, those fashions were hard to wear!! :)

  6. Nicolette, Annie, Ally, Michelle and Natahsa,

    So glad you all loved the film, too. It has so many of the elements we write about in romance novels that it seemed a 'natural' for Friday Film Night.

    And yes, Michelle, it was probably more of a transformation story, about Tess's leaving one world behind and succeeding in the new one. But with a payoff like Jack, it still qualifies as a romance! It's just the emphasis that changed.

    I think Jack was more of a maverick hero in this than an 'alpha.' But certainly there's an overlap. Harrison Ford tends to play the 'loner' hero or the 'rebel' hero with that edge of sarcasm that always makes me enjoy him.

  7. I have always loved this music, and whenever I hear Carly Simon belting out the theme tune, I get goose-bumps. It always reminds me of growing up in the 80s!

  8. Helga, I feel exactly that same goose-bumpy feeling when I hear that song. It really is a grabber -- and every time I see the film, the song runs through my head for DAYS afterwards. It deserved the Oscar that year.