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Film / The Associate

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The Associate is a 1996 comedy film directed by Donald Petrie and starring Whoopi Goldberg. Also in the cast are Dianne Wiest, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, and Eli Wallach.

Laurel Ayers (Goldberg) is a businesswoman trying to pave a way for herself on Wall Street, a society dominated by wealthy white men. Tired of receiving no credit for her work, Laurel quits her job and attempts to develop her own company. Unfortunately none of Laurel’s potential clients take her seriously. Desperate to have her ideas heard, Laurel invents an elusive business partner named Robert Cutty. By pretending all of her own ideas are actually that of Mr. Cutty, Laurel creates a successful investment firm and creates a celebrity out of the mysterious businessman.

Laurel’s plan hits a snag when it becomes necessary for the fictional Mr. Cutty to make a physical appearance. With the help of her secretary Sally Dugan (Wiest), Laurel disguises herself in prosthetics as the elderly white businessman. Despite a series of mishaps, Laurel manages to pull off her masquerade for a night without being discovered. Trouble mounts as Laurel’s former business partner Frank (Daly) becomes fixated on ruining her success. Meanwhile dozens of high-profile people want a piece of Cutty, including a nosy gossip columnist and a stock broker who has a reputation for sleeping her way to the top. As everything spirals out of control, Laurel must figure out how to get rid of Cutty and stand on her own two feet.

This film provides examples of:

  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Sandy, a businesswoman at Manchester, tells Laurel that she’s considering getting breast implants because it helps in business. She suggests that Laurel flash a little more cleavage in the office if she wants businessmen to listen to her.
  • Double Standard: Laurel's biggest struggle is to overcome double standards in the workplace. Laurel quits her original job because Frank, the employee she trained, received the promotion she had been eyeing simply because the company didn't want a woman in the position.
  • Drag Queen: Charlie. He performs nightly at a bar as Barbra Streisand, Cher, and others. He also serves as a Chekhov's Gunman.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Sally figured out about Cutty's nonexistence weeks before Laurel came out with it. She went along with it for Laurel's sake and because the benefits were fantastic.
  • Fainting: Camille passes out after Laurel reveals she was Cutty the entire time.
  • Hysterical Woman: Inverted. Laurel uses this trope to her advantage. During a board meeting, everyone refuses to go over an important business plan because Cutty couldn't make it. Laurel has a phony breakdown and the men agree to read the proposal immediately.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: The press starts making up stories about Cutty having had affairs with multiple women despite supposedly searching for true love. Laurel tells Sally: “He’s a man, that’s how they search.”
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Laurel comes up with the name of her “business partner” after seeing a bartender pour a bottle of Cutty Sark brand Scotch.
  • Lingerie Scene:
    • For a film about women’s struggle in the workplace, there are a surprising number of them. Most notably, Camille has a chat with Laurel while trying on lingerie. She wears a black bra and panties while trying to seduce Cutty, and Laurel almost gives herself away when she notices.
    • Frank’s girlfriend slinks around in holiday-themed lingerie in one scene.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Camille is an in-universe example. She says it herself that men only want to do business with men and they only want to sleep with women. She follows through with those expectations by throwing herself at men who can help further her career.
  • No Woman's Land: The world of business is pictured as a world where women are sidelined. Laurel gets no respect at her job and even less when she tries to go into business for herself.
  • The Reveal: Laurel rips off her Cutty mask while accepting the Businessman of the Year Award at the Peabody Club.
  • Ship Tease: Between Sally and Aesop. Both are fond of telling bad jokes and working with computers. They flirt in the few scenes they share together but it's never explored beyond that.
  • Shrinking Violet: It seems as though Sally falls under this category but once Laurel gives her a chance, she reveals herself to be the Plucky Office Girl. And with her computer skills and sweet disposition, Sally proves to be very valuable.
  • Show Within a Show: Laurel watches Camille on an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael.