Like "Wall Street", which came out the previous year, "Working Girl" is set in the world of world of high finance, but whereas "Wall Street" is a satire on greed and corruption (it famously invented the phrase "greed is good"), "Working Girl"- a romantic comedy set in a big Wall Street corporation- takes a more positive view of the capitalist system.
The main character is Tess McGill, one of the corporation's employees. Tess works as a secretary, but is ambitious to rise higher within the corporate hierarchy, especially as she has just turned thirty and has realised that her boss, Katharine Parker, is slightly younger than her. (In reality, Sigourney Weaver is eight years older than Melanie Griffith, but she looks attractive enough to make this plausible). Tess, however, is held back by her lack of formal qualifications and by her working-class origins, which are betrayed by her accent, by her clothes and most of all by her hairstyle. (To say that Tess has Big Hair would be an understatement; make that Enormous Hair).
At first Tess's relationship with Katharine is a friendly one. Encouraged by her boss, Tess even starts suggesting possible deals on behalf of the firm's clients. Things change, however, when Katharine breaks her leg on a skiing holiday and is forced to take time off work. During Katharine's absence, Tess discovers that her boss has stolen one of her ideas- involving the takeover of a radio network by a client company- and is trying to pass it off as her own. Outraged, Tess decides to try a deception of her own. With the aid of a new hairstyle and Katharine's smart business suits she passes herself off as an executive in the firm and tries to put the deal together. (Tess can't do much about her Staten Island accent, but no-one seems to notice). In the process she meets, and falls for, Jack, a handsome executive with the client company- who just happens to be Katharine's fiancé.
I must admit that Melanie Griffith has not always been my favourite actress. Her breathless, little-girl voice served her well as a teenager in films like "The Drowning Pool", but can sound irritating for a woman in her thirties. "Working Girl", however, is one of her best performances. (It deservedly brought her only Oscar nomination). The plot has some similarities with another Griffith film from a few years later, "Born Yesterday". In both films Griffith plays a working-class girl who is assumed to be dumb, but who proves to be a lot more intelligent and resourceful than anyone gave her credit for.
The film also showed us a new facet to Harrison Ford's talents, as he played the hero of a romantic comedy for the first time. This was not only his first venture into this particular genre, but also probably his best- I was never too impressed by his attempt to re-create the Humphrey Bogart role in "Sabrina" or by "Six Days, Seven Nights". His steady, dependable and decent screen persona, however, serves him well in "Working Girl". Weaver makes a suitably detestable- if desirable- villainess as the devious Katharine, and Joan Cusack gives a good performance as Tess's friend and confidante.
There are also some similarities with "Pretty Woman", another romantic comedy from two years later with a Wall Street background. Neither film might please a strict moralist; indeed, many moralists took great exception to "Pretty Woman" on the grounds that the Julia Roberts character is a "working girl" in the other sense of the term. In the case of this film, the moralists would insist that two wrongs do not make a right and ask why Tess is treated as the heroine when she is just as guilty of deception as Katharine is. Such moralists would miss the point of both films, which give new twists to old stories. "Pretty Woman" is a modern dress version of the Cinderella legend about the poor girl who falls in love with a prince. "Working Girl" casts the heroine in a less passive role- one who achieves success through her own efforts rather than through winning the love of a powerful man. The working class girl ends up on top, while the Ivy League-educated yuppie is cast as the villainess. It is essentially the Dick Whittington story with a modern setting and a woman in the leading role, a poor girl rather than boy making good.
I also liked Carly Simon's theme song, "Let the River Run", even though it did not seem to have much connection with the story. 7/10
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