Working Girl was a pretty big hit when it was first released, and even garnered itself six Oscar Nominations, including one win for Best Original Song. More recently though it seems to have been forgotten about a little. It rarely turns up in people’s top ten of all time ever favourite movies, and most younger people have never heard of it let alone seen it.
Working Girl is one of my very favourite films. It makes me sad that it seems to get little love these days. Maybe it’s because it’s a little cheesy in parts. Maybe the giant hair is a little too much and the shoulder pads too broad and pointy. Maybe it’s because it can be a little sentimental in places. Or maybe it’s because the title makes it sound like the dodgy bargain bin version of Pretty Woman.
For me these are all positive points, I love the 80sness of it all. I love the hokey ending, and the questionable fashion choices. It has some of the best lessons in feminism and women in the workplace whilst all being wrapped in a candy coated rom-com coating.
The film follows the story of Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a go getting 30 year old woman. She worked hard a night school to get her degree, and probably knows more about the markets then the men she works for. She is desperate to make her way in the world of Wall Street, and will take any opportunity given to her, though these are few and far between and often a ‘business meeting’ organised by her boss turns out to be a hook up for his friend. After one such run in with Bob (Kevin Spacey) she humiliates her boss showing them she is not a forced to be reckoned with. She wants to get ahead, but she wants to do it on her own terms, not just because she slept with someone.
After returning back to the office and humiliating the boss who set her up with Bob she gets re-assigned to work for Katherine Parker, who is delightfully over played by Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is able to play the supportive, yet underhanded boss very well, even if she occasionally veers off into Disney Villain territory.
Katherine appears to be the perfect boss, she listens to Tess and encourages her to come to her with ideas for their clients,with the promise of reward for hard work.
One day Tess comes to Katherine with an idea for a client to buy a radio station. Katherine appears to listen and take and interest. Though just before her departure to Europe on a skiing trip she informs Tess the idea was a no goer. The inevitable happens and Katherine breaks her leg whilst away, leaving Tess to look after her apartment until she can return.
Katherine represents everything Tess wants to be, elegant, poised, sophisticated, and, above all in power. So of course in an attempt to mimic her Tess goes through all of Katherine’s things, including her Dictaphone, which just so happens to contain a memo about Tess’ idea that Katherine has kept for herself.
So it turns out Katherine was a massive lying dirt bag all along. Tess decides not to take this lying down, ‘cause she actually kicks ass. She sets up a meeting with Jack Trainer (the ever sexy Harrison Ford). The night before the big meeting Tess gets dolled up in Katherine’s finest clothes to attend a party where the famous Mr Trainer will also be in attendance.
He espies her across the room and tells her Jack Trainer just left before she got there, but she should totally have a tequila with him to make up for it. She ends up getting hammered, thanks in part to the Valium she had taken earlier to calm her nerves.
I love this scene, it’s all about how you can be an empowered woman who can handle business without having to give up your femininity and dress, as Jack Trainer himself puts it ‘ how a woman would think a man would dress if he was a woman’
Together Tess and Jack pull together the deal with the client, and on the big meeting between the client and the radio station they are buying Katherine returns from Europe, and discovered Tess’ double-cross when she finds her diary that was left behind in her haste to leave and get to the meeting.
Katherine manages to get dressed and down to the office where the negotiations are taking place and burst through the door like the wonderfully campy villain she is and kicks Tess out for lying and stealing her idea, all whilst flailing her crutches about. Though at the final meeting the truth prevails. Katherine gets her comeuppance and Tess gets her reward in a new job in a junior position with a new firm, as well as falling in love with Jack.
On Tess’ first day in her new job she automatically places her things on the secretary’s desk, only to be told by the woman appearing from the fancy office that she is in fact the secretary and the office now belongs to Tess. As she does her introductions to her new employee she decides not to be like Katherine, and be a better boss and a better support.
There are so many lessons to be learnt from Working Girl, you don’t need to pretend to be a man in order to fit in in places of business. You don’t need to sleep with someone to get ahead. It’s OK to get rid of unsupportive people in your life (At one point Tess finds her unsupportive boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) in bed with another woman, so she kicks him to the curb). It’s OK to be supportive to your friends with aspirations, Tess’ best friend, Cynthia (Joan Cusack, who also has the best ever New York accent and some of the highest hair I’ve ever seen) is always there for her, no matter what. Even when she might not agree with Tess’s actions, she supports them and doesn’t judge her for wanting a career over her cheating boyfriend. Above all, it’s about how everyone should come together and supportive of each other in the workplace in order to achieve equality. We are a little closer to this goal nearly thirty years on, but with men still in the vast majority of positions of power we still have a way to go.
Yes, the production values are little dated. Yes, the fashion choices are questionable. Yes, it’s a little fluffy and things happen at the convenience of the plot. But this is a wonderful film, it’s hard not to get swept up with Tess’ ambitions and fight to be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. She refuses to give up her morals for the sake of getting ahead. She is truly a feminist hero and a great inspiration for any young woman wanting to enter big business.