1988 / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #346: Working Girl (1988)

Following on from his roles in both dramatic fare and action films Ford demonstrated that he could also do comedy. Ford showcased his straight man skills as the love interest in Mike Nichols’ Working Girl.

The film itself focused on Tess McGill, a young working-class woman who is hoping to rise from her position as a secretary. Tess has a business degree from night school but still isn’t taken seriously by her male superiors who view her mainly as a piece of skirt. Fired from yet another position, Tess is given the job of assistant to financial executive Katharine Parker. Katharine initially seems like the perfect boss and wants her and Tess to work as a team. Tess comes to Katharine with the idea of having their client Trask Industries invest in a radio station with Katharine seemingly on board with the idea. Katharine later tells Tess that the idea was rejected by her superiors but she later discovers that her boss is simply going to pass the idea off as her own. When Katharine is injured on a skiing holiday, Tess gains access to her home and dresses up in her clothes to transform herself into an executive. Posing as one of Katharine’s colleagues, Tess goes to a party in the hope of meeting Ford’s Jack Trainer with whom she will later have a meeting with. Their initial meeting ends up with Tess waking up in Jack’s bed but she later discovers that his team are on board with her idea. As Tess and Jack begin working together, an attraction grows between the pair and they are soon able to convince Trask to meet with them after crashing his daughter’s wedding. However, Katharine’s return brings with it a whole heap of problems not least the fact that she and Jack were involved in a relationship prior to her injury. At the end of the day it’s up to Tess to break through the class barrier and prove that she does belong in a boardroom with the other financial executives.

I was almost immediately charmed by Working Girl during its opening sequence which featured commuters on the Staten Island Ferry making their daily trip into work. The whole sequence was accompanied by Carly Simon’s ‘Let the River Run’ which would later go on to win the Oscar for Best Song. One of the film’s greatest attributes is Kevin Wade’s brilliantly paced script which engrosses you from the word go. He creates four or five characters who feeling incredibly realistic and all of whom you’re willing to spend just under two hours with. Tess in particular is a character that I’m sure a vast majority of people can identify with namely a lowly worker who is a lot smarter than those who are promoted above her due to who they know rather than what they can do. Melanie Griffith is fantastic as Tess and excels in a film in which she appears in almost every scene. She brings a certain sense of style to the role which is perfect for a character who sometimes thinks before she acts. Sigourney Weaver is equally fantastic as Katharine a woman who appears to be everybody’s friend but in actuality is simply out for herself. Weaver’s cool exterior is the perfect balance with Griffith’s more zany antics which makes you believe that they are complete polar opposites.
Joan Cusack lends great support as Griffith’s similarly wacky friend Cynthia whilst Alec Baldwin puts in a memorable turn as Tess’ cheating boyfriend. Griffith, Weaver and Cusack all received nominations for their roles in the film as did director Mike Nichols who here presents another perfectly constructed piece of work. Meanwhile, though not recognised by the Academy, Ford was able to showcase another side of his personality and was the perfect foil for both Griffith and Weaver’s romantic affections. At points it seemed that Ford was simply there to act as eye candy but I felt he held his own and has some wonderful chemistry with his leading ladies. Ultimately I found Working Girl to be an intelligent comedy which had a lot to say about class and gender whilst at the same time making a star out of its leading lady.


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