Sunday, February 7, 2010
Working Girl, the fantastic film from director Mike Nichols, tells the story of a woman looking for a great husband and a great job, and the dilemmas that ensue when those two things overlap. Melanie Griffith stars as the hard-working Tess McGill, and I don't think she's ever been better. This film certainly has a comedic touch to it, but Griffith packs a kind of depth in her performance that is responsible for the majority of the dramatic impact. It's a film about love and work, which is, when you think about it, the two things that pretty much everyone aspires to. If you have a spouse and a job you love, you're bound to be happy in life.
Tess isn't necessarily a poor woman, but she seems to be in poor spirits. She's worked harder than anyone to earn her degree in business through night school. While it's one thing to have a degree from a university, it's a completely different thing to have a degree from a night school, and this is one of the reasons that Tess has trouble moving up in the business world, with the other principle reason being her gender. Carrying a distinct personality and unique voice, Tess has secretary written all over her, but she wants something more than that.
After a very disappointing meeting with a potential boss (Kevin Spacey), Tess gets fired, but is lucky enough to land a job working for financial executive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver, in peak form). In Katharine, Tess sees a part of herself. An enthusiastic, ambitious woman who has found her way in the cutthroat New York environment. Tess shares her ideas with Katharine day in and day out in hopes that some of them might come to fruition. The two seem to form a mutually beneficial relationship, but it ends up to becoming something else entirely.
When Katharine breaks her leg on a skiing trip, Tess is forced to take over. Having just found out that her boyfriend Mick (Alec Baldwin) is sleeping around, she is in need of a power play, and she decides to try and implement an idea she's had for quite some time. Posing as the boss of her own company, Tess calls the well-known executive Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to set up a meeting so she can make her proposal. Under intriguing circumstances, the two end up running into each other before the proposed meeting, and their instant attraction only serves to complicate things later. In the midst of what could be her break-out idea, Tess finds herself falling for the man who could make it happen.
There have been many great films about love and many great films about work, but few have tackled both of these monstrous topics with such elegance and skill. The story moves along at a brisk pace, without ever losing our interest, and it also packs some surprise plot turns along the way. Much like life itself, Working Girl is an unpredictable ride, one that goes to dark, unexpected places. It has been said many times that the journey is the reward, but this film has something different to say. In the case of Tess McGill, it is actually the reward that is the reward.
Memorable films usually require memorable characters, and Tess certainly fits into that category. Griffith gives one of those performances that is impossible not to like. She is pretty, but doesn't have to dress like a model to show it. She is witty and funny without having to make us laugh out loud to prove it. And she is smart, without always making the best decisions. She is ambitious without being annoying and overbearing. She is, in every sense of the word, likeable, and making a likeable character is easier said than done, especially in stories like these where a likeable protagonist is a must.
This film is among the best work Mike Nichols has ever done, but it also seems like one of his most natural films. His directorial control seems reserved, choosing rather to rely on his actors and Kevin Wade's fantastic script. Much like overacting, too much directing can have a suffocating, uncomfortable feel to it, and it takes a smart director to know when he has enough of the right pieces for a great film. Luckily for us, Nichols is a smart director, and Working Girl is a smart film.