Working Girl (1988): Mike Nichols’ Fairytale Comedy, Starring Melanie Griffith

In Mike Nichols’ modern fairy tale “Working Girl,” scripted by Kevin wade, Melanie Griffith plays Tess McGill, a Staten Island victimized secretary (albeit by a female executive, another reversal of conventions), who decides to take charge of her life and in the process also gets her boss’s lover.

Good-hearted, industrious and ambitious, Tess begins working as a secretary at a big New York brokerage firm, who comes up with a bright idea for a big client (Philip Bosco).

The first reel of “Working Girl” is well-directed and more sophisticated than the rest of the saga, preparing us for a bouncy, updated version of classic comedies of yesteryear starring Rosalind Russell or Ginger Rogers. But, overall, Mike Nichols’ staging is too broad, and the movie is marred by too many obvious satirical touches, particularly in the confrontation scenes between Sigourney Weaver as Katharine Parker, the cold, bitchy boss and Griffith.

It’s a testament to the screenplay’s formulaic limitations that Katharine has to break a leg in a skiing accident, so that she can be removed out of the way and Tess can begin romancing her beau, played by Harrison Ford.

Protagonist’s name may have been inspired by Katharine Hepburn’s Tess Harding in George Stevens’ 1942 comedy, “Woman of the Year. The acting is good all around, particularly Melanie Griffith in the lead, whose line, “I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” was delivered with gusto and conviction and hence entered movie lore.

Very noticeable in small parts are Kevin Spacey, and particularly Alec Baldwin, as Griffith’s sleazy boyfriend, who’s caught cheating on her, just before they became major players.

As upbeat and sunny version of the American Dream of upward mobility, “Working Girl” is exactly the opposite than Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street (1987), a downbeat, realistic, and more in tune with the zeitgeist.

Cast

Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford)
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith)
Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver)
Mick Dougan (Alec Baldwin)
Cyn (Joan Cusack)
Oren Trask (Philip Bosco)
Ginny (Nora Dunn)
Lutz (Oliver Platt)
Turkel (James Lally)
Bob Speck (Kevin Spacey)

Oscar Nominations: 6

Picture, produced by Douglas Wick
Director: Mike Nichols
Actress: Melanie Griffith
Supporting Actress: Sigourney Weaver
Supporting Actress: Joan Cusack
Song: “Let the River Run,” music and lyrics by Carly Simon

Oscar Awards: 1

Song

Oscar Context

The most nominated film in 1988, “Rain Man,” received four Oscars out of its 8 nods, including Picture, Director, and Actor. The other Best Picture nominees represented a mixed bag in genre and quality:
“Dangerous Liaisons” and “Mississippi Burning,” each with 8 nominations, Mike Nichols’s comedic fable “Working Girl,” with 6, and Kasdan’s literary adaptation “The Accidental Tourist,” with 4.

Comedies seldom win the Best Picture, and “Working Girl” was no exception. What made it exceptional, though, is that three women were nominated for Oscars, and Sigourney Weaver was also nominated for the lead that year in “Gorillas in the Mist.”

In 1988, Jodie Foster won the Best Actress Oscar for “The Accused,” and Geena Davis the Supporting Actress for “The Accidental Tourist.”