|Directed by||Mike Nichols|
|Written by||Kevin Wade|
|Produced by||Douglas Wick|
|Edited by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$103 million|
Working Girl is a 1988 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols, written by Kevin Wade, and starring Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, and Melanie Griffith. Its plot follows an ambitious secretary from Staten Island who takes over her new boss's role while the boss is laid up with a broken leg. The secretary, who has been going to business night school, pitches a profitable idea, only to have the boss attempt to take credit.
The film's opening sequence follows Manhattan-bound commuters on the Staten Island Ferry accompanied by Carly Simon's song "Let the River Run", for which she received the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. The film was met with critical acclaim, and was a major box office success, grossing a worldwide total of $103 million.
Working Girl was nominated for six Academy Awards in 1989, including Best Picture, Best Director for Nichols, and Best Actress for Griffith, while both Weaver and Joan Cusack were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film also won four Golden Globe Awards (from six nominations) in 1989, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for Griffith, and Best Supporting Actress for Weaver.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (June 2021)
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is an ambitious, working class 30-year-old from Staten Island with a bachelor's degree in business that she earned by taking evening classes. She works as a stockbroker's secretary in lower Manhattan, aspiring to reach an executive position. Tess is treated like a bimbo by her boss and male co-workers, who nonetheless benefit from her intelligence and business instincts. Fed up with being humiliated by her boss, Tess quits in dramatic fashion.
Tess soon finds a job as an administrative assistant to Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), a young associate in Mergers and Acquisitions. Seemingly supportive as fellow female professional, Katharine encourages Tess to share ideas. Tess suggests an idea for a merger between Trask Industries and a radio station. Katharine seems intrigued but eventually tells Tess it wouldn't work out.
When Katharine injures her leg skiing, she asks Tess to house-sit. While staying there, Tess discovers some meeting notes and realizes Katharine plans to pass off the merger idea as her own.
Tess decides to use her boss' absence, connections, and clothes to move ahead with her merger plans. She schedules a meeting with Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), a mergers and acquisitions associate from another company. With her friend Cyn's (Joan Cusack) help, she cuts her hair to look more professional and raids Katherine's closet for more stylish clothing.
At the meeting with Trainer and his associates, Tess lacks confidence and leaves believing the meeting was a failure. Jack, however, arrives at her office and wants to move forward with her idea. Jack quickly secures a radio network acquisition for Trask Industries and bristles when Tess attempts to meet with the Trask CEO, Oren Trask (Philip Bosco) on her own, which he soon realizes is because her plan is to meet with him while crashing his daughter's wedding. Despite Jack's misgivings, Tess's charm and quick thinking secures Trask's interest in the merger.
Jack and Tess grow closer as they prepare the financials for the merger proposal, which is ultimately a success. They give in to their attraction and end up in bed. Tess is tempted to tell him the truth, but demurs when she discovers Jack is also involved with Katharine, though he was going to break up with her before her injury.
Katharine returns home the same day as the meeting to finalize the merger. While Tess is helping her get settled, Jack arrives to end things with Katharine, who pressures him to propose. He dodges the conversation and runs to the merger meeting. Tess accidentally leaves her appointment book in Katharine's apartment before leaving for the same meeting, which leads to Katharine discovering what Tess has been up to.
Katharine pushes her way into the meeting and outs Tess as her secretary, accusing her of having stolen the idea. Tess begins to protest but feels nobody would believe her. She leaves, apologizing profusely.
Days later, Tess clears out her desk and then bumps into Jack, Katharine, and Trask at the lobby elevators. A confrontation between Katharine and Tess leads Jack to stand up for Tess. When Tess reveals she's discovered a hole in the deal, Trask abandons Katharine in a closing elevator and hears Tess's explanation for how she came up with the merger idea.
When Trask confronts Katharine, she is unable to explain where she got the merger idea. He promises to have her fired for her actions and offers Tess an entry-level job with Trask Industries, which she happily accepts.
Tess arrives for her first day at her new job at Trask and is shown to an office where she meets Alice, the woman Tess assumes she will be working for; however, Alice explains that she is actually Tess's secretary. Tess insists they work together as colleagues, showing she will be very different from Katharine. She then calls Cyn from her own office to tell her she has finally made it.
- Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill
- Harrison Ford as Jack Trainer
- Sigourney Weaver as Katharine Parker
- Alec Baldwin as Mick Dugan
- Joan Cusack as Cynthia
- Philip Bosco as Oren Trask
- Zach Grenier as Jim
- Nora Dunn as Ginny, a colleague of Katharine's
- Oliver Platt as Lutz, Tess's first boss
- James Lally as Turkel
- Kevin Spacey as Bob Speck, a cokehead arbitrageur
- Robert Easton as Armbrister
- Amy Aquino as Alice Baxter, Tess's secretary
- Olympia Dukakis as personnel director
- Ricki Lake as Bridesmaid
Screenwriter Kevin Wade was inspired to write the screenplay after visiting New York City in 1984 and witnessing throngs of career women walking through the streets in tennis shoes while carrying their high-heels.
Melanie Griffith read the screenplay for Working Girl over a year before the production began, and expressed interest in playing the role of Tess McGill. Approximately a year later, Mike Nichols agreed to direct the film after reading the screenplay while shooting his film Biloxi Blues in Alaska. Following Nichols' attachment, Griffith had a formal audition for the role. Nichols was so determined for Griffith to have the part that he threatened to drop out of the production if the studio, 20th Century Fox, would not hire her.
Following the casting of Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford—both major stars at that point—the studio agreed to cast Griffith, as they felt Weaver and Ford's involvement gave them a higher chance of box-office success.
Principal photography of Working Girl began on February 16, 1988, in New York City. Many scenes were shot in the New Brighton section of Staten Island in New York City. One half-day of shooting to complete the skiing accident scene took place in New Jersey. Four different buildings portrayed the offices of Petty Marsh—1 State Street Plaza; the Midday Club, which served as the company's club room; the lobby of 7 World Trade Center (one of the buildings destroyed in the September 11 attacks); and the reading floor of the L. F. Rothschild Building. One Chase Manhattan Plaza was featured at the end of the film as the Trask Industries building. Filming completed on April 27, 1988, with the final sequence being shot on the Staten Island Ferry.
Throughout the shoot, Griffith was in the midst of struggling with a years-long alcohol and cocaine addiction, which at times interfered with the shoot. "There were a lot of things that happened on Working Girl that I did that were not right,” Griffith recalled in 2019. "It was the late ‘80s. There was a lot going on party-wise in New York. There was a lot of cocaine. There was a lot of temptation." After Nichols realized that Griffith had arrived on set high on cocaine, the shoot was temporarily shut down for 24 hours. Griffith elaborated on the experience:
Mike got so mad at me, he wouldn't talk to me. Mike Haley, the first [assistant director], just came up and said, "We're shutting down. Go home", and I knew I was in so much trouble. … The next morning he (Nichols) took me to breakfast and said, "Here's what's going to happen. You're going to pay for last night out of your pocket. We're not going to report you to the studio, but you have to pay for what it cost", and it was $80,000. They wanted to get my attention and they really did. It was a very humbling, embarrassing experience, but I learned a lot from it.
Three weeks after filming was completed, Griffith entered a rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for her addiction. Ironically, according to the biography Mike Nichols: A Life, written by Mark Harris, Nichols had been battling a cocaine addiction of his own around the same time.
The film's main theme "Let the River Run" was written, composed, and performed by American singer-songwriter Carly Simon, and won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Grammy Award for Best Original Song, making Simon the first artist to win this trio of awards for a song composed and written, as well as performed, entirely by a single artist. As a single, "Let the River Run" reached No. 49 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 11 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in early 1989.
The film was released in the United States on December 21, 1988, in 1,051 theaters and grossed $4.7 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $63.8 million in North America and $39.2 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $103 million.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics. It currently has an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, and an average score of 6.90/10. The site's consensus is; "A buoyant corporate Cinderella story, Working Girl has the right cast, right story, and right director to make it all come together." The film also has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100 at Metacritic based on reviews from 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "The plot of Working Girl is put together like clockwork. It carries you along while you're watching it, but reconstruct it later and you'll see the craftsmanship". In her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley described Melanie Griffith as "luminous as Marilyn Monroe, as adorable as one of Disney's singing mice. She clearly has the stuff of a megastar, and the movie glows from her". Janet Maslin, in her review for The New York Times, wrote, "Mike Nichols, who directed Working Girl, also displays an uncharacteristically blunt touch, and in its later stages the story remains lively but seldom has the perceptiveness or acuity of Mr. Nichols's best work". In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "Kevin Wade shows this in his smart screenplay, which is full of the atmospheric pressures that allow stars to collide. Director Mike Nichols knows this in his bones. He encourages Weaver to play (brilliantly) an airy shrew. He gives Ford a boyish buoyancy and Griffith the chance to be a grownup mesmerizer".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – No. 91
- 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- 2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Tess McGill: "I have a head for business and a bod for sin." – Nominated
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – No. 87
- 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
- Nominated Romantic Comedy Film
Working Girl was released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1989 by CBS/Fox Video; "Family Portrait", one of the shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show featuring The Simpsons, was included before the movie on the VHS release. The film was released on DVD on April 17, 2001, by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Special features included two theatrical trailers and three TV spots. The film was released on Blu-ray on January 6, 2015. The special features from the DVD release were carried over for the Blu-ray release.
In other media
A Broadway musical version is in the works as of 2017, with a score to be written by Cyndi Lauper from Fox Stage Productions and Aged in Wood Productions. For Aged in Wood, the producers were Robyn Goodman and Josh Fiedler. Instead of a production company on Working Girl, the musical adaptation was switched to a license production by Aged in Wood Productions since Disney took over ownership of Fox Stage in 2019.
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