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Working Girl Review

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Tess McGill is serving coffe and dressing badly until, one day, she decides to make something of herself. She ends up in the big city (the biggest: New York), wheeling and dealing with the best of them. But her good little heart is a fragile one - can it take the pressures of everyday betrayal?

★★★★

The title could just as easily have been Cinderella Takes Manhattan, since this upbeat, urban fairy tale of an oppressed secretary who gets to go — power-dressed — to the board room and meets Prince Charming is an unashamed comic fantasy. And very charming and cheerful it is, too, thanks largely to Melanie Griffith’s delightful performance as the aspirational heroine from the wrong side of the Hudson River striving to “be somebody”. Her sweet Tess is engaging throughout without becoming cloying or irritating — something of a miracle for an actress with an, apparently natural, itsy bitsy cute-little-girl voice.

Sigourney Weaver has a field day in her smaller, supporting role as the wicked stepmother, oops, make that “bitch boss from hell”, conniving, self-aggrandising and thunderstruck by her inevitable comeuppance. She must have relished the opportunity to swan about in designer clothes and loll fetchingly in silk lingerie sipping champagne like a witch in an American soap opera after her months up an African mountain with a bunch of smelly gorillas.

Harrison Ford as the uptown sex object is scarcely stretched but provides a relaxed, urbane air and hits the right, light note. In smaller roles there are two up-and-comers worth noting: Joan Cusack as Tess’s sympathetic but unimaginative (except with her make-up) girlfriend is a born scene-stealer and Alec Baldwin (from Beetlejuice) as Tess’s philandering boyfriend Mick is hot stuff.

The plotting of Tess’s meteoric rise from coffee maker to merger mastermind is adroit, with director Mike Nichols careful to observe neat and amusing little details. But it does seem odd that such a supposedly smart cookie bent on self-improvement should look quite so tacky as she does at the beginning.

It’s a little hard to see at this distance why a fairly simple fable seized people’s fancies to the extent it did, but it’s certainly entertaining and loses nothing on a TV screen. Presumably we little people still get a kick out of seeing the good girl become the belle of the ball.

At times naively told, but a witty and rewarding insight into the ecosystem of the concrete jungle nonetheless.