July 05, 2007

Smackdown 1988: Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl

Sigourney Weaver does her damnedest in Working Girl, but Katharine Parker is such a stock character that it's almost impossible to make her interesting. We're told that she's a Boss From Hell with her very entrance, which silences the chattering secretaries and sends them scattering to their various desks. We know that she's a liar (and clearly, Tess does not) from her first lines of dialogue, when she claims to be a few weeks younger than Tess. (I know, you can't assume that characters are the same relative ages as the actors playing them, but Weaver's eight years older than Melanie Griffith, and looks it -- which isn't to say that she's not fabulous -- and they are so obviously not the same age that I can only interpret that dialogue as an early cue to the audience that Katharine is duplicitous and Tess naive.)

The role breaks neatly into two halves. In her early scenes, Weaver gives Katharine a certain ambiguity; we're fairly sure she's not to be trusted, but then, maybe she really is the "team player" and supportive boss that she claims to be. She's a slippery beast, impossible to get a grasp on, and every line seems to spin both ways.

She disappears for a long chunk of the movie, recuperating from her skiing accident while the movie focuses on Tess and Jack, and when she returns, we now know that she's a conniving bitch out to steal Tess's ideas, allowing Weaver to abandon subtlety entirely. Katharine becomes pure ogre, practically a cartoon character. "I'll need help bathing and dressing," she tells Tess, with no question in her voice that this ludicrously inappropriate demand could ever be refused. It's not that an ogre is necessarily the wrong thing here -- it is a fairy tale, after all -- but Weaver goes a bit too broad, a bit too large for my taste, and she's out of step with the movie's tone.

She's clearly having great fun in the climactic boardroom scene, storming in on her crutches, waving them about as weapons of accusation, and she gets a fine laugh when she swoons into a chair, realizing that she can play her injury for sympathy. And in the final confrontation with Trask, when she's unable to explain where she came up with the radio idea, she dials it back down a bit and does some lovely, subtle work as Katharine struggles to maintain some shred of dignity and credibility.

It's a competent performance, and Weaver gets the laughs that she's asked to get. But she's too over the top in the second half of the movie, and she never gives me any of those surprising moments that tell me I'm watching something special.

(Originally posted Thursday evening; a few small edits were made early Friday morning.)

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