Thursday, March 2, 2017

Working Girl (1983) spins the Cinderella fairytale in the workplace

Working Girl movie review
Photo Credit: Working Girl / 20th Century Fox
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) may not have an ivy league education, but she knows her value - a hard worker, creative, determined and a team player. Unfortunately, as a Wall Street temp, these qualities are taken advantage of by chauvinistic co-workers to treat her as a prostitute and to get overlooked by her bosses. Finally, when she's had enough, she risks everything to strike out on her own by posing as a high-end executive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) to make a business deal with a handsome investment broker Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).

Though cliche and a little imperfect, Working Girl is a Cinderella story sprinkled with workplace sexism. McGill wants more than anything to prove her worth, share her ideas without a co-worker taking the credit and simply move on up the latter. Her age, gender and lack of former education hold her ambition hostage. In the most drastic ways like dressing up in her boss's clothing and setting up meetings with executives out of her professional league, she becomes her own fairy godmother. Women can be successful in a few different ways: stepping on people to stay atop the ladder, playing the game, or accepting their lot in life; using fashion, contacts, and an open ear as an opportunity to make their stamp.

The script isn't perfect, but it's a fun little romp to see who or when someone will catch onto Tess' extreme scheme. While posing as her boss, she has insatiable chemistry with the ever-charismatic Jack and tries to dodge other increasingly suspicious employees. Time isn't on her side as she cleverly pushes her ideas to the finishing line but risks people finding out she's just a secretary.

I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.

Right away, Tess feels relatable, someone (a woman) who wants to work without involving sexual politics. This is primarily accomplished by Griffith as Tess; she's very subtle as a comedienne, quirky, and a fresh face that even now one would be interested in watching out for. You can see where she gets it as the daughter to Tippi Hedren, and Griffith's daughter Dakota Johnson carries the mantle now. As a second generation movie star, Griffith shares great chemistry with Harrison Ford whose dapper charm still holds up in the charisma department like hunks Clark Gable and Cary Grant.

Alongside Griffith for the ride is Sigourney Weaver, kinda unlike audiences have seen or are familiar with her before i.e. kicking ass and taking names in Aliens. Here, as Tess' boss and frenemy, she doesn't have a problem with stepping on people to get to the top, but she isn't entirely villainous. It's fun to question whether she is a true mentor or looking out for herself. Weaver is funny and sharp, and as usual, her character is not one to cross.

While the cast and story may be a little timeless, the movie is also a shocking refresher of the eighties era it's trapped in. The production design, and in particular, the costumes, are an astounding walk down memory lane, even if you didn't live through the era personally. The ginormous desktop computers, shoulder-padded suits, overwhelming perms, and gaudy make-up all come back to delight or horror.

Thirty years after this movie was released, equality in the workplace hasn't been fully achieved. The movie rightfully earned Academy Award nominations for its ladies: Griffith, Weaver, and Joan Cusack, as well as Best Picture and Director, and won for Best Original Song. Though elements of Working Girl might be outdated, but its scrappy heroine is funny, relatable, and elicits a serious case of go-getting.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Working Girl? What did you think?

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