Tonight, I will get super quote-heavy, and cover Mike Nichols’ 1988 classic, “Working Girl” a film both applauded and derided by feminists for its depiction of women in the workplace. It is one of my favorite films about work; it reeks of Reagan-era capitalism, rampant sexism, and cut-throat business tactics.
But beneath the hair-sprayed 80s exterior is an inspiring film which offers a lot of great lessons.
I will assume that you as a child, did not own a copy of this on VHS and did not watch this movie on a weekly basis.
However, I highly recommend you buy a copy and watch it religiously.
If want to learn how to direct, watch films directed by Mike Nichols. Simply put, he creates some of the most authentic characters on-screen.
If you want to get ahead, watch “Working Girl.”
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) coiffed with the 1980s ratted out perm, dreams of making it big on Wall Street. She is smart and ambitious, but she cannot get ahead. Her male co-workers offer her a lead, a meeting with Bob Speck (Kevin Spacey), the interview held in his limousine quickly spirals downward into sexual assault, and Tess is forced to walk home in the rain. Retaliation against her coworkers gets her fired, and she gets one last chance a job as a secretary to a female executive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).
Katharine is living proof that it can be done. She has a powerful position, and she is amazing. She is poised and confident. While Tess is relieved to be working for a woman, she shares her brilliant plans with Katharine, a merger opportunity which will prevent their client Trask Industries from being acquired by foreign investors. Tess soon discovers that Katharine has not only taken her idea but is using it to bolster her own position, rather than crediting Tess.
Tess soon discovers that no one can be trusted in business, not even a woman, and her only course of action is to orchestrate the negotiation before Katharine returns from a skiing holiday.
There are plenty of movies about business, but in my opinion, Working Girl is one of the best so now I will share with you everything I learned about business from this film.
Now there is plenty Tess does that I don’t agree with, but this film is very inspiring and very quotable.
Lesson 1 You will never get ahead unless you improve yourself. That means giving up your lunch breaks and free time.
TESS. No lunch. I got speech class.
CYNTHIA. What’dya need speech class for? You talk fine. All right. I’ll pick you up at 5:00 and we’ll ride back together.
TESS. I can’t. I’ve got an Emerging Market Seminar at 5:30.
CYNTHIA. Geez, it’s your birthday! Can’t they merge without you just this once?
Lesson 2 Separate business and pleasure, if you want a job go to a formal interview, do not meet for drinks.
It does not end well, also if the interview includes champagne, mention of a hotel, and cocaine, run.
Lesson 3 If you want to be taken seriously, keep the knick-knacks minimal.
KATHARINE. Oh, great bunny!
TESS. Um, I don’t usually have a bunny on my desk. It was my birthday a few days ago.
Lesson 4 Impression is everything.
KATHARINE. The way I look at it, you are my link with the outside world. People’s impression of me starts with you. You’re tough when it’s warranted, accommodating when you can be, you’re accurate, you’re punctual, and you never make a promise you can’t keep. I’m never on another line, I’m in a meeting. I consider us a team Tess, and as such we have a uniform: simple, elegant, impeccable. ‘Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman.’ Coco Chanel.
TESS. Um, how do I look?
KATHARINE. You look terrific. You might want to rethink the jewelry.
Lesson 5 Read, read, read.
TESS. I read a lot of things. I mean, you never know where the big ideas could come from. You know?
Lesson 6 Handle all situations with charm and grace.
KATHARINE. Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick, tomorrow’s senior partner!
Lesson 7 Consider yourself worth it. Katharine never takes “no” for an answer.
TESS. I called the Inn, and they said all they can give you is a ground floor single in the new wing.
KATHARINE. Did you tell them it was me?
Lesson 8 You make it happen.
KATHARINE. The man I’ve been seeing for a while. I think he’s it. And I think this could be the weekend we decide. He said that there was something very important that he wanted to discuss with me. I think he’s going to pop the question.
TESS. You do?
KATHARINE. I think so. We’re in the same city now. I’ve indicated that I’m receptive to an offer. I’ve cleared the month of June. And I am, after all, me.
TESS. Well, what if he doesn’t pop the question?
KATHARINE. I really don’t think that’s a variable. Tess, you know, you don’t get anywhere in this world by waiting for what you want to come to you. You make it happen.
KATHARINE. Tess? Tess! Look at me. Who makes it happen?
TESS. I do.
KATHARINE. Who does?
TESS. I do. I make it happen.
KATHARINE. That’s right. Only then do we get what we deserve.
Lesson 9 Looks matter.
TESS. You want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair.
Lesson 10 Don’t try to be a man in a man’s world.
Tess in her feminine dress quickly catches the eye of Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).
JACK. You’re the first woman I’ve seen at one of these damn things that dresses like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he were a woman.
Lesson 11 Never mix prescription medicines with alcohol.
And never drink more than you can handle at a business function or you wind up saying embarrassing things like:
TESS. I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?
Lesson 12 Never, ever, ever, mix business and pleasure.
TESS. Look, we’re in a business deal together now, and I just don’t think that we should get involved that way.
Lesson 13 You don’t have to answer just because a guy proposes and never let anyone order you around.
When Tess’s ex-boyfriend Mick is pressured into proposing as a party, Tess gives him the answer he deserves.
MICK. Tess, will you marry me?
MICK. That’s an answer?
TESS. You want another answer, ask another girl.
MICK. Why are we always talkin’ about the way you get treated, huh? Who the f##k died and made you Grace Kelly?!
TESS. I am not a steak! You can’t just order me!
Lesson 14 It’s okay to break the rules.
TESS. Get a grip, get a grip, Tess. Get a grip.
JACK. We’re not even invited to this thing, are we?
TESS. Okay, so we were not exactly invited. But he’s here, and we’re here, so that makes us…
JACK. Total idiots!
TESS. …in the right place at the right time.
JACK. You’re like one of those crazed cops, aren’t you? The kind nobody wants to ride with! Whose partners all end up dead or crazy.
TESS. Just act like you belong.
Lesson 15 Always keep your day planner with you.
Katharine would have never discovered Tess had orchestrated the Trask merger had Tess kept her notebook.
KATHERINE. Tess, you forgot your n…notebook….That…little….slut!
Lesson 16 If you make it to the top, always treat your employees with respect.
TESS. I don’t expect you to fetch me coffee unless you’re getting some for yourself.
Ciao for now, dearies, be sure to check out the other fantastic films in Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon I am certain some of the other posts also offer great lessons.