Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl - Supporting Actress Sundays

One of the things that big Hollywood movie actors tend not to appreciate is style. No, I'm not talking about fashion or flair - duh - but the qualitative differences between what's needed in terms of vocality, affect, timing, etcetera when doing a Western versus a gross-out comedy versus a romantic comedy. Hollywood tends to want its actors to be exactly the same wherever it puts them, and plenty of Hollywood actors are perfectly pleased to do just that (egregious contemporary example 1, 2 & 3). Of course there's a chameleonic exception or two in each generation, as well as those who work their particular angle very very well, but it can get tedious watching a truly talented and versatile performer getting rutted into repeating the same schtick/different scenario shell game over and over again. That's why it just makes StinkyLulu haphaphappy to see a successful commercial film actor seek out the opportunity to toy with "style" -- makes me an almost immediate fan (delightful contemporary example 1, 2, & 3). And that might be why I've always found myself so captivated with...

approximately 21 minutes and 40 seconds
17 scenes
roughly 21% of film's total running time

Sigourney Weaver plays Katherine Parker, a rapidly rising executive in the cutthroat world of Big80s big finance...with the shoulderpads to prove it.

Weaver's Katherine is a privileged, powerful woman, edging from her twenties with her keenly acquisitive gaze trained on what she wants in her thirties: more fame, more power, and more Harrison Ford. Working Girl complicates Katherine's life by assigning her Tess (Melanie Griffith in perhaps her only great performance) as a secretary. Tess may not want as much as Katherine, but she certainly wants it more.

The plot requires Weaver's Katherine to create an indelible impression in a handful of early scenes, disappear for the bulk of the movie, and then return toward the end for a few really big scenes. In the first few scenes, Katherine must be a thrilling and terrifying creature, kind of Tess's Willy Wonka, in these early scenes -- but she must also lay a villainous foundation for the evil boss turn in the movie's final act (when she must become the anti-feminist corollary of 9 to 5's Mr. Hart). It's not necessarily a difficult role. Probably anybody with a modicum of wit could have made Katherine Weaver a vaguely plausible big80s gorgon.

But what Weaver does is something a little more delicate: she makes Katherine Parker likable. Noxious, offensive, arrogant- yes - but somehow also charming, charismatic and almost appealing. Weaver accomplishes this by simply allowing her Katherine to believe her own hype. Rather than fixating on the character's selfishness and greed, Weaver's performance recalibrates things so that such behaviors are mostly tertiary traits of Katherine's totalizing self-interest, hubristic self-distraction at its most farcical.

That Weaver gets this -- and enjoys playing it -- making her Katherine Parker an often giddy delight.

At some delicious level, Weaver's Katherine is Nellie Oleson moved from mercantile to Wall Street...and she's an utterly gratifying hoot. What's better is that Weaver's performance calibrates a refined set of comedic gifts (near perfect timing, a couple of genius line readings and just enough slapstick) to keep things at edge. Weaver never tips too far into mustache-twirling villainy (though she has those moments too) to lose the sharp edge of wit that coordinates her performance.

I'm inclined to think that Weaver's turn in Working Girl, in tandem with a certain sequel she did a year or so earlier, might have been the one-two punch that announced that she would remain among the most formidably interesting (if undervalued) actresses of the next several decades. And it's all because she knows style. In these genre pictures -- romcom or scifi action or whatevah-- Sigourney Weaver knows what she's doing and, as a rule, she does it very very well.

1 comment:

CanadianKen said...

Nicely observed. Hissable AND likable. What a combo! And it's a treat to watch Weaver keep those plates airborne and spinning. As Brad said in the Smackdown,"we never question how everyone is taken in by her". Sigourney Weaver may by Oscarless. But - Hip Hip Hooray - as she joins the august ranks of Smackdown winners