Mike Nichols A hard worker (1988) was a romantic comedy drama with a feminist lean. He follows Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a secretary with serious ambitions. She attempts to climb the ranks of the Staten Island business totem pole, but her efforts are crushed by a deceptive supervisor.
The themes of Nichols’ masterpiece were incredibly prescient but still relevant at the time. Even to this day (unfortunately), A hard worker is an entertaining look at a serious issue: the marginalization of women both in the workplace and in general.
A hard worker is easily one of the best Harrison Ford movies that doesn’t involve Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Instead, it doesn’t even focus on Ford’s Jack Trainer at all.
Nichols’ film is one of the most important early feminist films (with films like Thelma & Louise). Ford (and Weaver) might have been recognizable on the poster (Griffith was not at the time), but the real appeal is in the themes conveyed throughout his performance. The fact that a 1988 film was able to discuss feminism in a way that turned out to be a crossover success is very impressive.
Alec Baldwin’s Smarmy character
Alec Baldwin is not in many A hard worker, but when he is in it, he plays the blissful to perfection. The first time viewers meet Mick Dugan, he throws a birthday party for his girlfriend (McGill). Then, she receives her gift: lingerie.
His next scene continues to display his ambivalence towards McGill. She tells him about Parker, who works for a woman, and her potential for advancement. This is all information that is both interesting and relevant to their lives. Dugan seems bored as she recounts her day, and that is quite indicative of how their relationship is going to deteriorate.
Joan Cusack’s Best Ever
If there is a hall of fame to support actresses who excel in the role of friend, Joan Cusac is one of them. She’s the funniest part of the movie and can bring audiences to tears of joy with just a look.
This is especially true for her character once Tess McGill poses as Katharine Parker. McGill brings the trainer into her office for a follow-up meeting on her business proposal. Cynthia pretends to be his assistant, preventing Katharine’s colleague from breaking in. The look on Cynthia’s face conveys a whirlwind of panicked emotions, and few could sell panic with as much humor as Cusack.
Mike Nichols Amiable Direction
Mike Nichols knew how to get perfect performances from actors. From Griffith he obtained drive and determination in a vast and all-consuming world. From Weaver he got a cold, calculating business monster that is so realistic that the viewer forgets he is looking at Sigourney Weaver.
As for Ford, it’s like Nichols is wisely letting him do his thing. Jack Trainer is really nothing more than a boy in a man’s body all through A hard worker, and the actor has the charm of succeeding without Trainer ever looking like a fool. The result is close to being one of Harrison Ford’s best roles.
Push Ford away
A hard worker is one of the best Harrison Ford movies, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call it a Harrison Ford movie. He seems to be having fun playing the supporting character of Griffith.
Considering Ford was one of the biggest stars on the planet in 1988, it would be fair for audiences to expect his role to be the one that propels the plot. But Jack Trainer hovers halfway between the driver and the spectator; its impact on the narrative is significant, but it really is Tess McGill’s story.
Weaver as the villain
Katharine Parker seems bossy and rude at first, but it’s not far from a standard business freak. Over time it becomes clear why Parker did it so high before 30: she does not play fair.
Due to the way women were (even are) frequently submissive in the business world, the viewer really doesn’t believe McGill will be successful. Parker stole his idea and it looks like it will stay that way. If it had been a man’s idea, maybe. Katharine Parker is a phenomenal villain because she is great in the real world.
“Let the river flow”
The right song can really help convey the tone of a movie; For example, the best songs in horror movies can both match the tone and subvert it.
Carly Simon wrote “Let the River Run” for A hard workerthe soundtrack of. He opens the film, playing on the credits as the camera heads to New York. It’s a beautiful piece of music and it’s a worthy addition to any iTunes playlist. Simon deservedly won an Oscar for Best Original Song.
Griffith’s dominant and iconic performance
Tess McGill is a driven and intelligent woman who has what it takes to be successful. However, this is only one layer that Melanie Griffith conveys through her performance. McGill is also exhausted from being trampled and fucked repeatedly.
Griffith manages to convey both this exhaustion and ambition throughout the film (with a gradual shift towards ambition with less exhaustion). It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the McGill role.
The palpable brotherhood
When Joan Cusack’s Cynthia comes alongside McGill before a big party, it’s easy to forget it’s comedy. Cusack brings a warmth to Cynthia who animates each of her scenes.
In many other films, a female character sought the help of a friend in anticipation of an important and luxurious event. In A hard worker, it doesn’t look like a scene. Cynthia’s supply of valium looks like something a flesh-and-blood friend of the late ’80s would do.
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