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Movies at the Library: Finance, feminism — ‘Working Girl’


This one has it all: a working class heroine to cheer for, a hard-hearted boss with Ivy degrees and no scruples, a Mr. Right with an intriguing scar on his chin and a rocking, Oscar-winning theme song by Carly Simon.

The movie mixes light-hearted social satire with sexual and Wall Street politics and dishes up what Janet Maslin in the New York Times called “Cinderella in a business suit.”

The movie is 1988’s “Working Girl.” It stars Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford. Mike Nichols directed. It runs 115 minutes and will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 10, downstairs at the Shelter Island Library.

Griffith plays feisty Tess McGill, an ambitious young woman with lots of ideas she thinks can propel her up the ladder in her firm’s mergers and acquisitions department, where she works as a secretary.

Alas, as she quickly learns, it takes more than good ideas to gain even a foothold on the bottom rung, let alone make the ascent to the top. Tess will have to make some changes. First to her hairdo, which has much more altitude than business sense. Then to her Staten Island persona, her wardrobe, her manners and mannerisms and, most importantly, her relationships with those higher up the ladder.

Sigourney Weaver plays Katherine, Tess’ highly polished and deliciously villainous boss.
Harrison Ford is Jack Trainer, Katherine’s lover, and the connection from another firm who can make Tess’s first big deal happen.

Adding to the fun are Joan Cusack, who plays Tess’s best friend and Alec Baldwin, who plays Tess’s faithless boyfriend.

The plot kicks into high gear when Tess, keeping things on track after Katherine breaks a leg in a skiing accident, discovers that the boss she thought was an ally has in fact stolen one of Tess’s best ideas and is promulgating it as her own. That gives Tess license to fight back with all the Staten Island street smarts she’s got. What ensues will have you on a roller-coaster ride of laughter and edge-of-your-seat suspense.
Oddly, the script was written by a man.

But one who had a firm grip on how to explore the gender and class politics of the late 80s without turning the film into a lecture. Part of his success has to do with Tess’s relationship with Cyn, the Joan Cusack character. It is she who casts a cold eye on what Tess is up to. “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear,” she tells Tess in a no-nonsense tone. “Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”

“Working Girl” was made 27 years ago. So, yes, some of it is outdated. But there’s a lot of wisdom in this movie that still applies today. “Dress shabbily,” Katherine tells Tess, “and they’ll notice the dress. Dress impeccably and they notice the woman.” She also tells Tess, “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner.”

Please join us downstairs at the library at 7 p.m. on February 10. Bring a pal. You’ll both enjoy this one.