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Working Girl

Year: 1988
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Kevin Wade
Cast: Melanie Griffiths, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alex Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Olympia Dukakis

A movie can transcend its time, like Cocktail, the loud fashions, vernacular and technology give the period away at a single glance.

The Graduate director Nichols lashed this film to so many period-specific trappings, from the huge hair (now we know where the hole in the ozone layer came from after all that hairspray) to the shoulder pads that the film itself - rather than the story - is nearly slapstick farce.

Loveable corporate loser Tess (Griffiths) is constantly passed over for promotion at her finance company employer, but when her seemingly fair but affable new boss Katharine (Weaver) is laid up after a skiing accident, Tess sees her chance. Realising Katharine's been stealing her ideas and passing them off as her own, Tess decides to pretend she has Katherine's job as payback, putting together deals she hopes will make her name.

Her biggest project calls for her to work with rumpled, charming Jack (Ford), a guy she nearly ended up in bed with after a corporate function but who becomes her closest confidante as her star rises. When the inevitable happens and Katherine comes back to work, the showdown will be on, especially because of the romantic twist.

I've read a few reviews calling this movie a classic modern reinvention of the screwball comedies of the 1930s, with Ford the Cary Grant of his day. Two problems kept me from thinking the same. The first is that Nichols so completely nails the film to the floor with every fashion, technology and vernacular trope of the 1980s it's almost impossible to look past without seeing a museum piece.

The second is because I can't believe Melanie Griffiths has a career she didn't forge on casting couches in the Biblical sense. I don't mean to be cruel - I've read as much in a great book about the back rooms of 70s and 80s Hollywood, but she's an absolutely woeful actress. I might have missed the point of the performance but she simply doesn't have the wit or vitality to be Rosalind Russell, Marlene Deitrich or any other brassy femme fatale of old. In fact, most of the time she looks like she's half asleep, and she's not nearly enough to hinge almost every scene of the movie on.

Ford and Weaver both make it look effortless, but with a much better actress in the title role and far less dating it would have been easier to bear.

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