Working Girl has crazy hair and insane shoulders, but if one is to look past that time’s fashion and focus on the little things, he is sure to find great pleasure in them. It’s unexpected comebacks and awkward interactions that make Mike Nichols’ film what it is – alongside Sigourney Weaver’s Katharine, a character you despise but makes you grow restless every time she leaves the screen. It’s Melanie Griffith’s ever-changing tone of voice and Alec Baldwin’s most suited role to date that compelled me to write about Working Girl, joined of course by Joan Cusack’s Boy George impersonation and that glorious moment when Bitsy uncontrollably pirouettes herself off that dance floor.
I remember when Working Girl first came out and how much it struck me as something very different to what was then being played in most screens. When Melanie Griffith’s Tess stood in front of the mirror in her sexy birthday-present lingerie and protested “you know, Mick, just once you could go for like a sweater or some earrings… something that I could actually wear outside of this apartment…” she spoke on behalf of a women’s generation; that of women tired of being girlfriends, secretaries, assistants and fashion victims – followers of every kind – and that of women eager to evolve, better themselves, grow independent and mature, make an impact, shape their individual voice, find themselves, claim their career and future and downright refuse to let their outfits be dictated by their decade’s sudden madness or their man’s personal taste and fleeting sexual longings.
Read at Unsung Films: The Graduate.
Being a woman in the kind of fluctuating, competitive and disdainful work environment that is displayed in Working Girl must have been even more difficult during such a time of shift in women’s personal needs and ambitions. In Mike Nichols’ film women are not just out to prove their worth and climb the social and professional ladder, they’re also out to get ahead of other women with the same intentions – sometimes even to stop them from advancing altogether. They have to neutralize their competitors as well as those in their team – and a time and place where everyone’s pulling the person next to them down, it’ll be either the strongest, smartest or most ruthless that will get anywhere worth mentioning.
In Working Girl it’s Sigourney Weaver’s Katharine that serves as both an inspiration and a model to avoid. She is smart and classy, ambitious and unstoppable. She’s cynical, manipulative and a terrible loser. Her voice is heard the loudest, while Tess’ finds it impossible to make any kind of impact. Katharine’s clothes and hair merely complement her personal style, when Tess’ suffocate it. There is something mature and envy-worthy about Katharine and something to relate and warm up to about Tess. In the end, the latter wins, because Tess’ character is far more genuine; she’s the struggling second, the underdog with plenty of room for improvement. The desperate measures they both use to get ahead are not to admire, but one is justified for going to such lengths, while the other one isn’t. Because one represents us all, while the other speaks on behalf of those few.
Watch the trailer for Working Girl here: