You can see why Working Girl was a hit in its day – its emotional arc satisfies like a machine built to crank out warm fuzzies. It may not have the visual gravitas of Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, but similarly Nichols elevates the material to its full potential (even if Working Girl‘s ceiling is substantially lower). Melanie Griffith’s role is well suited to her unique balance of blue collar modesty and understated drive, playing directly to her natural abilities to star-making effect. Sigourney Weaver’s expressive subtlety is a great contrast, her directness merely a facade hiding deep insecurity and lack of self-awareness.
However, the film doesn’t hold up to contemporary scrutiny for its feminist intentions. Griffith’s Tess may be our hero, but the script is hell bent on treating her with pity rather than sympathy, defining her more by her foolishness than the gumption that makes her achieve her goals. As the villain, Weaver’s Katherine doesn’t fare much better. The actress is measured in making Katherine vapid, hilarious without tipping into farce. That lack of self-awareness is her downfall, for she’s as blind to her own patriarchal subjugation as she is to her ability for cruelty. The film is all too pleased to punish her when Weaver reveals her to be most vulnerable and human.
Not to mention the film ignoring that the career Tess aspires to is basically, you know, evil. The logic of the film is that it’s excusable for Tess to be so cutting because she’s adorable and has a heart of gold really, but Katherine is vain and desperate so she should be publicly punished.
Side note: It’s a problem that the best Harrison Ford can do in the film is take his shirt off, right? (Not that I’m complaining.) But there’s a reason that the film is best remembered for its women than its top billed box office draw, for he and Nichols never craft him into a consistent character.
While the film isn’t much of a visual experience, Nichols and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus do bookend the film with grand visual statements of New York City that invite the audience into Tess’s journey. The opening tracking of the ferry and the packed city streets paint Tess as one of the endless nobodies, and the final pull out from her new office reveal her to be also one of its countless success stories. It’s the narrative arc writ large, a satisfyingly scaled moment that allows the audience to implant themselves into Tess’s shoes.
That Statue of Liberty shot at the top is another brief scene of intimate and universal complimenting eachother, and almost my choice for Best Shot. The blurry monument in the distance is a far off as Tess’s thwarted dreams, the actress’s silent tears one of her best moments in the performance. The sadness of the scene is genuinely felt and necessary to launch the film to its triumphant conclusion.
But my Best Shot choice is slightly more informative of character:
How oblivious (and lonely) must you be to throw yourself a party in a hospital for your broken leg? The frame is silly and candy coated in contrast to the film’s gray stiffness, a loud reminder that Katherine isn’t a cliche frigid bitch but hilariously and awkwardly unaware of her demands on others and herself. She’s so focused on achieving and attaining that she doesn’t sense the emptiness until it’s too late, and here she is at her most fruitless.
More of Hit Me With Your Best Shot!