Soundtrack Saturday: “Working Girl”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

Kelly Stitzel discusses the 1988 Mike Nichols hit, Working Girl and its Carly Simon-penned theme song, much to the delight of Jeff Giles and Jason Hare.

Some time last spring, I acquired the soundtrack to the Mike Nichols-directed romantic comedy Working Girl (1988), but I hesitated writing about it because I know how much derision Carly Simon gets around these parts.

However, I watched Working Girl (terrible title for this movie, isn’t it? It makes me think it’s a movie about a hooker) over the holidays and said, “fuck it. I love this movie and I want to write a post about it, even if no one reads.”

If you’ve never seen the film, which was nominated for a boatload of awards after it’s release at Christmas in 1988, here’s a recap. Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is a secretary at Petty Marsh, a Wall Street investment bank. She lives on Staten Island with her boyfriend, Mick (Alec Baldwin), who winds up cheating on her with another woman. She also works with her best friend, fellow secretary and Staten Islander, Cyn (Joan Cusack), who always has Tess’s back.

Because she dreams of a better life with a better job, Tess is always trying to better herself and find ways to move up within the company. After her previous bosses basically try to pimp her out to a cokehead in another department, she transfers to the mergers and acquisitions department and begins working for Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), an aggressive businesswoman who has newly arrived at the firm’s New York office.

Tess is delighted to work for a woman and feels as though she has an ally in Katherine, someone with whom she can share her ideas and who will mentor her. When Katherine breaks her leg skiing while on vacation in Germany, Tess must do her best to handle Katherine’s business while she’s away. While doing some chores at Katherine’s house, Tess discovers a proposal that Katherine has put together based on an idea that Tess shared with her that Katherine has decided to pass off as her own.

Angry, Tess decides to take it upon herself to put her idea into action and contacts Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), who works at another firm, about working with her on the deal. The two work closely to make the deal happen and, well, you know — it is a romantic comedy, after all. Unbeknownst to Tess, though, Jack is Katherine’s boyfriend. The intrigue!

Eventually Katherine returns to New York, on the day the big merger Tess and Jack put together is supposed to be finalized. She catches wind of the scheme — and of Jack and Tess’s budding romance — and sets about to put a stop to all of it. Of course, things don’t work out for the villain and Tess finally gets her redemption.

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Working Girl was a huge critical and commercial success. It grossed $4.7 million during its opening weekend and went on to gross $103 million worldwide.  It got rave reviews from just about every film critic and was nominated for, and won, multiple Golden Globes and was also nominated for several Academy Awards, of which it won one — Best Original Song for Simon’s “Let the River Run,” which also won a Grammy.

Because Hollywood was lazy, even back in the early ’90s, Working Girl was made into a T.V. series in 1990 starring a then-unknown Sandra Bullock as Tess and Nana Visitor, best known for her turn as Major Kira on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as a Katherine-esque character. Only twelve episodes aired before NBC canceled it (and rightly so — I remember watching it and thinking it sucked).

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Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Working Girl‘s soundtrack isn’t the greatest in the world. It’s main draw is Simon’s Oscar-winning song, which appears on the out-of-print official soundtrack album in two distinctly different versions — Simon’s original and one performed by the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys. It also contains parts of the instrumental score, which are OK, but nothing spectacular.

Other than Simon’s work, you have “Lady In Red” by Chris DeBurgh and “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters, both of which have appeared in several other films, as well as a track from the Gap Band. Again, great songs, but they don’t really do much to elevate the specialness of the soundtrack. Apparently, though, this soundtrack is beloved by many, judging by some of the reviews I read on Amazon. One even stated that it was the only thing that motivated its writer when she worked out. Alrighty then.

Carly Simon – Let the River Run
Chris DeBurgh – Lady in Red
Pointer Sisters – I’m So Excited
The Gap Band – Straight From the Heart
Rob Mounsey – In Love (Instrumental)
Rob Mounsey – The Man That Got Away (Instrumental)
Rob Mounsey – The Scar (Instrumental)
The St. Thomas Choir Of Men And Boys – Let the River Run
Rob Mounsey – Carlotta’s Heart
Rob Mounsey – Looking Through Katherine’s House
Sonny Rollins – Poor Butterfly