When a movie is seen as a classic, or landmark, or some sort of watershed moment, even if I don’t particularly like that movie, I can usually still appreciate how it got its high status. Exhibit A, Titanic. One of the most predictable, cliched and corn ball screenplays ever written. But its advances in special effects can’t be denied. I’m not a fan of many Kubrick movies, but I can understand how the heightened style of A Clockwork Orange was a game changer. And I can see how The Shining elevated the cheap and nasty genre of horror. But I can’t imagine how a predictable story about local girl made good, starring someone as painful as Melanie Griffith, could ever be anything worth watching. Yet, with five Oscar nominations, I submit for your consideration Working Girl.
Griffith is Tess, a straight talking Staten Island girl from the school of hard knocks who has recently completed a business degree via night school. She tries to infiltrate the corporate world of Manhattan through a series of temp jobs, but (get ready to suspend all disbelief) because she’s so gorgeous (apparently), this male dominated world can’t see past her looks. Which is where Sigourney Weaver comes in as Katherine. She has made it in this man’s world, and Tess sees her as the mentor she’s been looking for all along.
After a skiing accident, Katherine is stuck in hospital and Tess uses this as an opportunity to assume a new job a few ranks higher than reality. Behind Katherine’s back, and in an increasingly infuriated series of cheaply farcical situations, she ends up courting Jack (Harrison Ford) in a major business deal that would make her career, while he courts her for a bit of the old shaboinking.
All of this is as telegraphed and by the numbers as my synopsis sounds, and there are no surprises to be had anywhere at all with the plot. There are surprises however, with the awesome cast of supporting and minor characters. Tess’ boss at the opening of Working Girl is the always welcome Oliver Platt. She is fired from that job after embarrassing a high powered coke head played by Kevin Spacey. Her Staten Island boyfriend in the opening scenes is a shockingly young Alec Baldwin, and her best friend is Joan Cusack at her patented over the top, nut ball best. They’re all brilliant, and none of them get nearly enough screen time.
And even if they had more, I doubt they could make up for the awefullness that is Melanie Griffith. She’s a terrible actor, and she isn’t attractive enough to get by on her looks. I’m not saying all female characters should be played by super models. But I am saying, if the conceit of your movie is that this main character is so beautiful, no one can ever even contemplate that she has a mind to match, maybe don’t have that character played by some box headed, blokey broad who looks like a female wrestler who’s overdone it on the ‘roids just a bit.
But shit, that first 10 minutes when you get Oliver Platt and Kevin Spacey doing their thing? That’s some good stuff right there.