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Film: Working Girl

"I've got a head for business and a body for sin."
Tess McGill

This 1988 comedy, directed by Mike Nichols, shows that even if you come from the wrong side of the Hudson, you can make it in business so long as you've got the balls to see through a good idea.

Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is desperate to be taken seriously and recognized for her brains and business skill, and hopes to rise from the typing pool at the Wall Street investment firm Petty Marsh. Given one last chance after blowing out "Bob from Arbitrage", she's made personal assistant to Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) in Mergers & Acquisitions. Katharine is willing to accept input and ideas from her, and is intrigued by Tess's big idea that would save a large company from a foreign takeover. Katharine then breaks her leg while away skiing in Switzerland, and she asks Tess to look after things in her absence. Tess soon discovers that Katharine is going to try to pass off Tess's idea as her own to the CEO of the threatened company. On top of this, she discovers her boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) is also cheating on her. Tess sets out to do a deal by using her idea herself and teams up with Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to close the deal before Katharine's return. The two slowly fall for each other little knowing that the other is Katharine's boyfriend/secretary...

Working Girl was one of the more financially successful and critically acclaimed comedies of 1988. It was nominated for six Oscars: Best Actress for Melanie Griffith, Best Supporting Actress for both Joan Cusack and Sigourney Weaver, Best Director for Mike Nichols, and Best Picture. Carly Simon won the Best Original Song Oscar for "Let the River Run". The film also won four Golden Globes, with Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver each winning for acting, Carly Simon for her song, and the movie as a whole for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical. Accolades from AFI include "Passions" (#91), "Songs" (#91), and "Cheers" (#87). The movie also inspired a short-lived 1990 NBC sitcom of the same name, starring none other than Sandra Bullock as Tess McGill.


This film contains examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Most of the secretaries and the women on Staten Island. Joan Cusack, to the extreme. Also Melanie Griffith in the early parts of the movie. Averted with Katharine, whose hairstyle would be seen as perfectly normal and professional even today.
  • Academy Award: Nominated for six, ended up winning one. Details above.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Very much averted with Tess. While some of her actions are ethically questionable to say the least, the film portrays her as only "doing what she has to do" to climb the corporate ladder without the "right" background or connections. Katherine, on the other hand...
  • Award Bait Song
  • Billing Displacement: Lead Melanie Griffith gets third place in the film, behind bigger names Harrison Ford (doesn't appear until about a half hour in) and Sigourney Weaver (shelved during Act 2).
    • Diagonal Billing: Harrison Ford, the biggest star, takes the upper-left billing slot on the box art and film posters while lead Melanie Griffith takes the lower but center position. As a star name but supporting character to both, Sigourney Weaver is on the same billing plane as Ford, above Griffith, but on their right.
  • Black Bra And Panties: Tess, also with matching garter belt and stockings!
  • Broken Bird: Jack Trainer, due to his Back Story.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive / There Are No Good Executives: Mostly averted. The only obviously corrupt executive is Katharine. Oren Trask in particular seems to be an honest, intelligent, all-around good guy who just happens to be a rich CEO.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Katharine Parker starts off as Bitch in Sheep's Clothing but once Tess discovers her true colours the Devil is revealed.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The film begins with a 360-degree pan around the head of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a slow zoom in on the Staten Island ferry. It ends with a shot looking into the window of Tess's new office, then slowly pulls out to reveal the Manhattan skyline (though there's one obvious discontinuity in the shot).
  • Face Palm: When Katharine breaks in on the mergers meeting, Jack and Tess mirror each other's Face palms.
  • Fanservice: Melanie Griffith has a couple of nice lingerie scenes (see Black Bra And Panties above); lampshaded by Tess, who suggests to Mick that for a change, he should get her something she can wear outside the bedroom. Sigourney Weaver's aren't bad either. And then Harrison Ford provides Fanservice both for the audience and his typing pool as he changes shirts while talking on the phone. The typing pool even gives him a round of applause in appreciation.
  • Foot Popping: Seen in the scene where Tess and Jack fall for each other.
  • I Can Explain: Mick to Tess when the latter walks into their bedroom at the wrong time, then Tess to Jack when Katherine reveals Tess is only her secretary.
  • Important Haircut/Expository Hairstyle Change: Tess cuts her hair in order to look like the sophisticated executive she's impersonating, hoping to become—and eventually is at the film's conclusion.
  • Indy Ploy: Jack gets into the act in getting Tess to dance with Trask. Bonus points that Jack is Indiana Jones.
  • Insufferable Genius: Katharine has a very high opinion of herself and isn't afraid to let other people know it. She has a degree from Wellesley, speaks fluent German to the owner of a Swiss ski resort in order to get the tower suite, and freely praises herself as a trailblazer for women in the business world. By the end of the movie, she may actually be Too Clever by Half...
  • Ivy League: Jack Trainer has a BA in business administration from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard. Katherine, as mentioned above, wnet to Wellesley, one of the Seven Sisters colleges (essentially, the Ivy League for women). Tess gets told that her lack of this trope is one of the things holding her back.
  • Liar Revealed: Katherine's intrusion of the merger meeting exposes Tess as merely Katherine's secretary, forcing Tess out of the deal. Tess pays her back in kind by pulling this trope as well, explaining to Trask how she reached the idea of the merger, which exposes that Katherine knows nothing of the particulars of the deal, since it wasn't her idea like she claimed.
  • Lingerie Scene: Several of Griffith and Weaver.
  • Little Black Dress: Tess borrows one from Katharine's closet to wear to the Dewey Stone reception. She becomes light-headed when she discovers that the dress costs $6000.
    "It's not even leather!"
  • Meaningful Name: Petty Marsh. It lives up (or down) to its name. No wonder Tess wants out.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Jack Trainer seems to be a Type 1 of this trope.
  • New York City: The setting of the movie. Most of the business action takes place in Manhattan. Tess and her friends are from Staten Island, and most of the scenes involving her personal life are set there. The movie was shot on location in both places.
  • Noo Yawk Accents: Joan Cusack, dear God. Tess is aware of hers and is taking speech classes to make her accent less noticable. Note how the accents are much thicker on the characters from Staten Island than on the ones from Manhattan.
    Cyn: "Whaddya need speech class foe-wa? Ya tawk foine!"
    • Tess also uses her stronger Staten Island accent to pretend to be her own secretary on the phone.
  • Not What It Looks Like / I Can Explain: Tess comes back early to find Mick performing more than just a shirtless scene with Doreen.
    Mick: "Tess! It's Not What It Looks Like. [beat] Actually, it is what it looks like, but I Can Explain!"
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Giant Poofy Sleeves and disco blue tulle make for a hideous bridesmaid dress. But, hey! it matches the leisure suit tuxedos...
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Joan Cusack as Tess's friend Cyn, particularly when she pretends to be Tess's secretary.
  • Plucky Office Girl: Tess McGill is one of the trope namers.
  • Pretty in Mink: Katharine's sable coat that Tess borrows.
  • Rags to Royalty: Tess goes from being an unappreciated, overworked secretary with both a job and relationship that appear to be going nowhere. By the film's end, she's pulled off a major business merger, finally gotten a position at a major firm, and is living with Jack.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Trask. At first, he's skeptical that Tess is the brains behind the merger idea, but once she gets an opportunity to explain how she came to her plan (something Katherine can't come up with, since of course it wasn't her idea), he is very impressed (and less so about Katherine afterwards).
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Jack Trainer.
  • Shirtless Scene: Harrison Ford provides Fanservice to his typing pool. Alec Baldwin also has a couple, showing off his Carpet of Virility.
  • Simple Yet Opulent: Cynthia is shocked at an evening dress costing thousands of dollars, despite not being made of obviously fancy materials (like leather).
  • Stealing The Credit: Katharine intends to pass off Tess' ideas as her own...and reap the rewards for them.
  • The Triple: Cyn, flirting with Jack Trainer while pretending to be Tess's secretary.
    Cyn: "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Me?"
  • Umbrella Drink: Jack Trainer gets two of them while he and Tess crash the Trask wedding. Both of the drinks are for him.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Katherine uses an actual injury to gain sympathy when she barges into the meeting. Realizing that people might actually listen to Tess and not her, she fakes a dizzy spell, instantly garnering concern and attention from the other attendees.

Weekend at Bernie'sCreator/ 20 th Century FoxWrong Turn
The Princess BrideAcademy Award for Best Original SongThe Little Mermaid
Without A ClueFilms of the 1980sThe Wrong Guys
Mississippi BurningAcademy AwardDriving Miss Daisy

alternative title(s): Working Girl
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