Working Girl: The Discussion

working-girl-movie-discussionWelcome to the second installment in our discussion of some iconic movies featuring “working girls” — today, we’re discussing the 1988 movie Working Girl. You can find our earlier discussion of the 1980 movie 9 to 5 here. So, ladies, what were your thoughts on Working Girl? If you haven’t seen it before, what were your thoughts with fresh eyes — if you HAD seen it before but rewatched it for this discussion, did you have any new insights on the movie?

Warning, spoilers ahead…

This was one of my favorite movies growing up, and in the early days of this blog I remember wanting to illustrate pretty much every discussion we had with stills from the movie, or refer to iconic lines or plot points from the movie. (It’s also one of my husband’s favorite movies — I had to wait for him to rewatch it. We named our youngest son Harrison for a reason…)  Some random thoughts, in roughly chronological order:

  • WHY DOES THIS MOVIE ONLY HAVE THREE STARS ON NETFLIX?!? Interestingly, over at Rotten Tomatoes I always focus on the critics’ score (this movie has an 83% fresh rating), but it’s only got a 67% score from the audience. Ladies, if you’re among those who didn’t like it, please speak up — I’d love to hear your thoughts.
  • The opening song, Let the River Run, won an Oscar for best song, I believe, and it was so popular for the following years that my all-city a capella choir sang it. (I was a choir geek in high school.) The first time I lived in Brooklyn, in 2005, I hated it — at the time I was single and trying to date and it seemed like everyone around me was married and none of my dates wanted to do anything vaguely near Brooklyn — and I kept thinking of this song as I’d go for morning jogs on the Promenade. (I moved back to Manhattan a year later, eventually meeting a nice Brooklyn boy and buying an apartment just a few blocks from that first hated apartment.)
  • I blame this movie for my overconsumption problem with media and general information overload. As Tess says (and demonstrates several times in the movie when various things she’s read solidify into one idea), you never know where your next big idea is going to come from!
    • “I’ve got a head for business, and a bod for sin.”
    • “Six thousand dollars? It’s not even leather!”
    • “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior *prick*, tomorrow’s senior partner.”
    • “I’m not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, OK?”
    • “The earth moved. The angels wept. The Polaroids are, are, uh…  in my other coat.”
    • “I’m telling you, she’s your man!”
  • working-girl-red-dressI’m kind of obsessed with that red dress Katharine Parker wore to her party (pictured at right, and below), although I think a shorter length (or a less full skirt) would work better for today. (Nice use of a brooch!)  Her entire wardrobe has aged very well, I think — sure there are the obligatory heavily-padded blazers and Super-’80s-color combos (like the red, white and black in the boardroom scenes at the end), but I’d say 80% of her wardrobe would still be wearable today.  That’s really impressive.
  • Tequila GOLD?!? They drink tequila GOLD? Did they not have reposada, or añejo, or, you know, silver back then? What the heck?
  • Alec Baldwin: wow, he looks skinny here. And as certain people would say: Just Say Fooey and Move On.
  • There’s a scene where Harrison Ford pulls out a fresh white shirt that he keeps at the office to change his clothes — I swear, this is when I got the idea to start stocking my office with back-up clothes.
  • Who wears white to a wedding? (And: with black hose?!)
  • If this movie is any indication, I feel like people way, way, way overused perfume in the ’80s.  And eye shadow. (Joan Cusack, you’re killing me!) And hairspray. And mousse.
  • To add to the red dress discussion — I think the whole scene (below) does a great job of summarizing women at work in the ’80s in general. Sigourney Weaver’s character is shown as kind of Machiavellian, but she was working it with the tools she had — appropriate but definitely standing out as feminine, powerful, and comfortable with risk. Now, of course, she’s the villain in the movie, and one should never steal an idea and try to pass it off as your own — but still, in many ways I think she’s stood out in my mind over the years more as an individual and interesting woman in power than Melanie Griffith’s character Tess has, with her baby voice, bouncy hair, and garters. (I’m too much of a rom-com addict to really agree with this writer’s decidedly negative take on Tess, but it’s interesting:

“As Katharine sits, immobilized and clueless, Tess gets her revenge, upset that her would-be mentor isn’t planning to share the credit. She uses her boss’ home, office, and belongings to put her business plan into action — with Katharine’s colleague no less — before the executive can steal it.”


  • Also, it’s interesting to note that Sigourney Weaver was closer to 40 when she made this movie, and Melanie Griffith was actually 31 — it’s nice that they cast women in the role instead of 22-year-olds who were supposed to be 30, as I suspect they might do nowadays. (Harrison Ford was already 45!)


Ladies, what were your thoughts on watching Working Girl

Further Reading:

  • ‘Working Girl’ Is a Near-Perfect Movie. So Why Aren’t You Totally Obsessed With It? [Yahoo]
  • Why Working Girl offers the real deal [The Guardian]
  • Lessons From ‘Working Girl,’ 25 Years Later [Forbes]
  • Everything I Know About Feminism I Learned From Working Girl [Jezebel]
  • and from an anti perspective: Girls on Film: The complicated legacy of Working Girl [The Week]


Lessons From Working Girl- Years Later


  1. not the real Tess Harper :

    I will not cancel my W subscription no matter how many nekkid people are in it or how cray the lifestyle pieces are (comparisons of private islands for shipping heiresses may someday be needed knowledge).

    What’s the matter with the way you tawk; you tawk foyne.

  2. Anon Midwest :

    Totally agree about the age (I actually exclaimed, 30!)

    Some of my thoughts:

    Wow, how times have changed that an entry level manager/exec wouldn’t have to share an assistant with a few others.

    The white at a wedding stood out to me as well. But that first cocktail party dress ($6,000) actually stood out more. Based on the way that everyone else was dressed, it looked like a straight from work happy hour sort of thing. If that’s the case, then Tess’ outfit was off, even if lovely.

    I’m also supremely sad at the number of sexist norms that haven’t changed. Only woman in a room, check. Men taking advantage of your desire to get ahead, check.

    • Totally agree re her sparkly dress being off. (And even with today’s prices I kind of agree with Cyn: $6,000? and it wasn’t even lea-tha!) (According to this site, a $1 in 1988 had the buying power compared to $2.05 today — so today it would be a $12K+ dress.

  3. Re Harrison :

    also could be a Dexter reference :)

  4. I saw this in the theater twice – once with my BF (one day to be ex-husband, ha!) and liked it so much I took my younger sister.

    I was 24 when the movie came out and just starting my career. I’ll check back to see how the discussion is going because I’m curious what the younger generation thinks about it.

  5. Anonymous :

    I liked how at the very end when the exec used foul language (” Sorry ass, etc.”) on Katherine (even if she did deserve it), she replied gracefully by saying something like “Sorry, but I cannot accept this kind of language” and walked off. How would you reply in that situation, whether you are to blame or not?

    • I didn’t “like” that, because I thought it was a ridiculous card for her to play. She knew she had no substantive defense to his remarks and allegations so she decided to play the “ladylike ears” card.

      I don’t care if someone calls me an ass. I care if they’re right.

      • Anne Shirley :

        +1 but with the admission that my ego would probably take a hit if I got called an ass

    • I LOVE that movie, and for the OP, the expression was about Sigourney Weaver’s “BONY Ass!” He said: Get your bony ass out of my office! I wish I had a bony ass like Sigourney Weaver did, b/c she was very sexy and would have kept Harrison Ford, except that Melanie Griffith’s was even more sexy and she came from Staten Island where the women did EVERYTHING for their man. I would NOT do that stuff that Sheketovits wanted but he ALWAYS pointed to Melanie Griffith’s and what she did and said I should do that to him. FOOEY on him!

      • I STILL LOVE this movie, Kat! Yay!!!!! And I wish I had a bony ass, b/c my tuchus is to chunky to be considered bony!!!!!

  6. Katherine K :

    Serendipity – I just watched this movie on Netflix for the first time a few weeks ago! Not having any warm and fuzzy childhood memories of this movie, I wasn’t really a fan, for the exact reason The Week writer you linked mentioned: Tess steals, uses, and deceives Katharine long before Katharine double-crosses her. Katharine’s eventual wrong didn’t make me inclined to absolve or forgive Tess for her previous sins.

    Also, Tess was Katharine’s secretary: wouldn’t a boss taking credit for an assistant’s idea have been relatively common? Especially a female assistant, in the bad old days?

    Criticisms aside: Harrison Ford is a stone cold fox.

    • CorporateInCarhartt :

      +1 This was peak Harrison Ford.

      • Anonymous :

        IDK — his John Book in Witness was peak for me. This is also fine. Han Solo (up until Return of the Jedi — Star Wars is not a musical, y’all!) is also fine. Basically up until the first Indiana Jones movie. Not so much after that.

    • Anon Midwest :

      Perhaps because I’m used to the Indy days, but Harrison Ford was never my cup of tea. However, in this movie he is 1) close to my age but just a little older and 2) one of the most attractive man in what looks like fairly normal clothes.

    • I love this movie, but it always creeped me out at the thought of someone wearing my clothes and going through my things like she does.

    • BensonRabble :

      I agree. I happened to watch this for the first time a month ago and hate it that of course it’s the other woman is blocking your career. The excuse men give for women not advancing is that other women pull them down. The class criticisms were interesting though.

      Did not appreciate the random scene of Tess vacuuming in her underwear. Really?

      • I remembered that scene from before and thought it was funny, but was surprised to see (at least on Netflix) that she was topless while vacuuming! Seemed unnecessary.

  7. Tess and Joan Cusak’s character were everyone I grew up with in the outer NYC suburbs. Being white (but “ethnic,” as I heard one time), you really can learn to pass for upper-middle-class / lower-upper-class white. When you do, then you hear the commentary on what people really think about your people. Very eye-opening.

    Lately, I read in Hillbilly Eligy that same sort of sentiment. Where the Yale professor says what he thinks of State U grads (to a State U grad he’s clearly not expecting to find there).

    • One scene that I think really illustrates this is her listening to the dictation of the letters over and over. Learning not only accent but speaking mannerisms and social mores of the upper crust (skiing at Christmas and donating to a sorority alumni fund).

    • dragocucina :

      The response to Tess’ dim sum suggestion was one of those moments that made me uncomfortable. Don’t be so surprised that someone that was told, “I welcome your ideas and I like to see hardwork rewarded. It’s a two way street on my team.” It was at the work-social gathering that I started disliking Katherine. I wouldn’t expect her to be passing the dim sum, but the dismissiveness of Tess’ work was so snotty. 1. You couldn’t have hired a someone to do that? 2. The quarterback doesn’t need to pass the Gatorade, but you don’t have to rub it in the waterboy’s face.

  8. Agreeing with others… if Katharine hadn’t been so otherwise-villainy (dumping luggage/bear on Tess at helipad, verbally stating “don’t go through Tess” in her own notes-to-self, etc) and had just said, great idea I’m going to run with it… that would be pretty much standard operating procedure for a boss/report relationship today, and the report would get a good annual review. But, revenge makes a better movie plot.

    Now, revise the script so that it’s a mansplaining colleague at Tess’s level that does the stealing… THAT would bring it into the present day just fine.

  9. Oh man, I saw this for the first time a few months ago and watched it again this week. So much of it still rings true as an admin, trying to find a balance between managing others’ projects and your own career path. When Tess and Cyn are on the phone at the end–that was the realest scene. What a great movie!

  10. In regards to the rotten tomatoes score, I suggest you read

  11. I saw this in the theater when it originally came out. I had already been in the job world. The female boss that talked a good game about being a team (sisterhood!), but then threw me under the bus, took credit for my work, etc., had been part of my reality. So, the revenge plot resonated.

    Being a trailer park kid I related to the hard work to transform yourself in order to be heard in the office. That “polished” look that can be so hard to understand. Of course Harrison Ford is yummy. The shirt in the office. The gentle touches at the when he’s sending her off to her new job.

    • dragocucina :

      It didn’t come off to me so much of as a revenge plot as, “I’ve been cut out every time I play by the rules. I’m going outside the box.” Yes, using Katherine’s office, clothing, etc., was a serious misrepresentation. Yet what did Katherine tell her over and over? It doesn’t happen unless I make it happen. Tess didn’t over hear a piece of information. She didn’t have a secret skill or specialized knowledge of radio markets. She was always working hard, reading, making connections.

      While white at the wedding was inappropriate, the neckline of that dress with the subtle pleating struck me as something that could easily be worn today.

  12. another good quote from the movie :

    “Get your bony a$$ out of my sight”

  13. My favorite line is, “I am, after all, me.”

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