Oscar Vault Monday – Working Girl, 1988 (dir. Mike Nichols)

I really love this movie. I’m pretty sure I first saw it when I was about 6 or 7 years old and for the longest time I couldn’t wait to go and work in an office (not the case so much anymore, haha). I loved everything about it. The story is a pretty basic David vs. Goliath kind of deal, but set in an office, with a dash of Shakespearean mistaken identity thrown in as well. It’s also a romantic comedy, albeit one that is slightly more serious than most. There’s broken hearts and bad relationships, real friendships, ambition, a bit of women’s lib and office politics. It’s very much a movie of its time, but because it has some basic archetypes at its core, as dated as its costumes, etc are, the story and therefore the film is timeless. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one: Best Song (won), Best Supporting Actress Joan Cusack, Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver, Best Actress Melanie Griffith, Best Director Mike Nichols and Best Picture. It was up against The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning and winner Rain Man.

It always fascinates me to look at the Best Picture nominees from the 80s. You’ve got a lot of kind of stuffy nominees (the 80s is really the beginning of Oscar-bait, Merchant-Ivory type films we see every year these days) and then you have a bunch of really random comedies. 1988 was a year where you had two comedies up for Best Picture (they both lost to dramedy Rain Man) – Working Girl and The Accidental Tourist. I guess the latter is a bit of a dramedy as well, and I can think of at least two films from 1988 that are much better films. But Working Girl I really love and am glad it was nominated. Like I said in my intro, it mixes so many classical themes into a workplace romantic comedy that it sort of elevates itself from the genre. It’s also directed by Mike Nichols, who was nominated for Best Director four times – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate (won), Silkwood and Working Girl. He’s directed a handful of other films that I love dearly, so it’s not really a surprise that under his deft direction he made such a wonderful film. A film that is chock full of great performances, three of which were nominated for Oscars.

Melanie Griffith looks so much like her mother Tippi Hendren in this film, it’s astonishing. She also did the one thing her mother was never able to do – get nominated for an Oscar. Ultimately she lost to Jodie Foster in The Accused (a film I’ve yet to see). I think Griffith gives a pretty subtle performance for a romantic comedy and that’s why the Academy loved it so much. She plays Tess with such honesty and conviction, she feels much more real than you usually see in this kind of film. she has such amazing chemistry with not only her romantic lead, Harrison Ford, but also with her other co-stars. You really feel like she’s best friends with Joan Cusack’s Cyn, there is a real fiery disdain and distrust between her and Weaver’s Katharine. It’s a great performance and one well worthy of its nomination.

1988 was a good year for Signourney Weaver. She received not one, but two Academy Award nominations that year. One as Best Actress for Gorillas In The Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey and the other for Best Supporting Actress as Katharine Parker in Working Girl. She is wonderfully nasty in this film. The ultimate self-centered, rat-race running yuppie executive; a most definite product of the 80s. She lost both awards, but her performances that year will not be long forgotten.

I love Joan Cusack in this film. Another product of the 80s, Cyn is such a wonderful character. She’s got little ambition, unlike Griffith’s Tess, but she doesn’t care. She knows she doesn’t have the brains to move up in the world the way that Tess does, but she’s supportive and funny and helps her succeed any way she can. Both she and Weaver lost the Best Supporting Actress award to Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist. Cusack was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 1997’s In & Out.

This is one of my favorite of Harrison Ford’s performances. No, it’s not one of his most serious roles. Really, it’s one of the few times he’s done a comedy. And what a shame that is, he is so charming and warm and sweet in this film. Though his role is at times serious, for most of the movie he remains in the background, either in awe of Griffith’s Tess or being commanded and silenced by Weaver’s Katharine. Later this year we’ll see him in a comedy again in Morning Glory, a newscaster comedy co-starring Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams. I’m glad he’s doing comedy again, he is so great at it. I hope that film is as good as it has the potential to be.

Alec Baldwin plays Tess’ philandering soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Mick and he does it so well. He’s both charming and slimy and it fits the character perfectly. He’s a working class guy who is unable to be supportive of Tess’ ambition, and really is rather jealous of it, I think. This role could easily have been a total clichéd mess, but with Mike Nichols excellent direction and Baldwin’s talent, it’s anything but.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that this film contains an early performance from two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey. He’s only in it for about five minutes or so, but boy is he great. He’s even slimier than Baldwin’s character. I think it’s a testament to Spacey’s talent that even though his role is so small, it is just as memorable as any of the others.

If you’re interested in buying Working Girl, you can do so here.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on October 11, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I love this movie also. It is also a great time capsule with the epitmoe of 80s hair and ugly bridesmaid dresses LOL. I don’t relate to the class distinctions so that part of the plot eludes me a little but I love the ending very much. The photo you chose of Griffith really does show how much she looks like her mother – amazing.

  1. Pingback: Fancy Schmancy People » Blog Archive » Alec Baldwin Boyfriend

  2. Pingback: Oscar Vault Monday – Mississippi Burning, 1988 (dir. Alan Parker) « the diary of a film history fanatic

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