Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Recasting 1988 (supporting): "Working Girl"

We're back on track with a more conventional, well-known selection. It's known that Meryl was in consideration for the role of Katharine Parker in Mike Nichols's 1988 dramedy, Working Girl. I've been a fan of this movie dating back to high school. My mom brought it home on VHS one day and it's been a favorite of ours since. Having first seen it nearly a decade after its release, I had forgotten how popular the sort of Wall Street picture was in the 80s. Secret of My Success, Big Business, Wall Street. They're all movies from around that time that I enjoyed, not really realizing they were so representative of the Zeitgeist, with unchecked capitalism and corporate greed all the rage.  

The film follows Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), who's trying to work her way up the corporate ladder in New York City. After she's set up on a would-be business meeting that turns out to be more like an audition on a Hollywood casting couch, she quits and is offered a secretary position for Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Tess and Katharine are both about to turn 30 (a stretch for Sigourney and Meryl in 1988), with Tess a few days older. There's an interesting dynamic between the two from the start, with Tess acknowledging that she's never worked for a woman before, nor (presumably) for someone younger. Katharine seems, at first, to be the kind of boss who's going to not only not be a total douche bag tyrant, but also a mentor to Tess in the business. Not so much, as it turns out. 

I watched this movie for the first time in years a couple weeks ago with Joe. I'm sure I've seen it since The Devil Wears Prada came out, but during this most recent viewing, I was immediately struck by the comparisons to be made between the two characters of Katharine Parker and Miranda Priestly. Yes, they're both successful business women in important positions with a female assistant. But there's an interesting paradox in how they're both initially perceived, and then actually turn out to be. The first time we see Katharine is a watered-down version of Meryl's entrance in The Devil Wears Prada, where everyone in the office is sort of laid back until she arrives. But unlike Miranda, Katharine stops to politely introduce herself to her new employee, and early on she makes it known that she's open to Tess's ideas. But when Tess offers a good idea, Katharine (who up to this point we see as a bit snobby but not necessarily evil) shows her true colors and steals the idea. Miranda Priestly wouldn't deign to be as accommodating as Katharine seems to be, but we never get the sense that she's unethical. She might be a bit ruthless, but what you see is what you get with Miranda. Katharine's actually kind of a bad person (not that the men in her business aren't, necessarily) for what she does to Tess. Maybe that's what it takes for someone to reach the position she's reached. But I suspect not. It would've been a fun thing to witness Meryl negotiating this character. I can see her getting the audience to maintain a bit of sympathy or understanding for Katharine, despite her poor treatment of Tess. 

Of course there's a love triangle between Harrison Ford's character, Jack Trainer, and Tess and Katharine. It sort of raises the stakes and adds to the dislike we get for Katharine, now that Jack and Tess have sort of become an item while Katharine was recouping from her skiing accident.  

That scene is so well-played by Weaver. We definitely don't see Meryl portraying characters quite that overtly and confidently sexual. And we certainly don't see her in lingerie. I wonder how close she got to being in this movie. Knowing that she was "considered" could mean a lot of things. She and Mike Nichols had already done Silkwood and Heartburn together. It's certainly possible that she'd read the script. I wonder if she had, if the scene above would've given her pause in considering participating. Alas, we'll probably never know. 

Working Girl did well with critics and was a big box office hit. It received a total of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Director. Griffith and Weaver both received noms as well, along with Joan Cusack, who hilariously portrays Tess's friend, Cynthia. Weaver won the Golden Globe for her performance, a year she famously scored two wins, the other for lead in Gorillas in the Mist.


  1. Wonderful choice, an iconic movie of the decade and great role for Meryl. I agree with you about how up-front sexy the character is but I'm certain Meryl could have carried it off.

    If you hadn't chosen this role I would have, so my choice will be the "Annie Pope" role played by Christine Lahti in "Running On Empty", directed by Sidney Lumet, alongside Judd Hirsch and River Phoneix. Although technically this could be viewed as co-lead I think there's enough wiggle room for it to be Supporting. I feel this is another classic of the era, although much more "indie".

    1. Wow how sad that this film is completely unknown to me. I actually hadn't realized that River Phoenix had ever been nominated for an Academy Award, much less for this movie. Great choice!