A new post! Woo hoo! It is definitely time to return to my roots here, as I have not really been doing what the title of my blog proclaims. Where is all the hating? So here we go. Please excuse the break and thank you for remaining true and checking back if you have been. I promise to be better.
The other night I watched The Associate. Ahhh, The Associate, you say. Yeah, it’s not what you’re thinking. Nothing with John Grisham or Shia LaBeouf. I had not heard of this 1996 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Dianne Wiest either. The fact that it was about Wall Street did not exactly make it sound like the film equivalent of a page-turner, but the cast included good people and it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Whoopi movie, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I mean, it’s Whoopi, right? Bound to be some comedy gold there, right? Yeah, not so much. One might not be totally off-base with the use of the word drivel.
So to bring us back to bascis, I give you:
5 Things I Hate About Your Movie (I couldn’t get 10) and 1 Awesome Moment that doesn’t quite make up for it
1. Why So Serious, Whoopi?
For being billed as a comedy, it really wasn’t very funny. It also wasn’t very serious. It just kind of was. Whoopi actually seemed very much not herself to me, and while I support the woman not always just playing herself – that is what acting is, after all, and no one wants to be pigeon-holed – this felt very unnatural and forced.
2. Character Issues and Predictable Plot
On that note of Whoopi feeling unnatural, I in no way buy her as unable to lie through her teeth when presented with a tough situation. They made her character a very smart woman. Why then make her act like an idiot?
Whoopi plays Laurel Ayers, a Wall Street career woman who makes up an imaginary white male partner since no one will give her the time of day as an African American female investment banker who has struck out on her own after being passed over one too many times by her douchebag associate at her old “boys club” firm (hello Tim Daly!). So the titular Associate is either this imaginary guy named Cutty, or Whoopi herself, or even Tim Daly. There are lots of associates here. Anyhoo, she is a very very smart lady. She’s apparently responsible for every good idea on Wall Street. No one else seems to know how to do their job; they just coast and steal her shit.
Okay, now, we as the audience can pretty much see this plot coming from a mile away. We can see that Dianne Wiest, as Sally Dugan, (and doesn’t that name sound familiar from somewhere?), the rather abused, supposedly-mousy secretary, will become her partner in crime and will be amazing and way smarter than anything she was given credit for back with the Frank Peterson, Daly’s character. So why is Laurel so mean to her at first? I don’t think that as a woman having to fight the system she’d be quite that dense towards another woman. And why, when questioned about Cutty for the first time does she stutter away and seemingly almost give up the game? She’s smarter than that! She’s been making up this man in a lot of detail, but she seems to think of it as a silly game. I assume she realized she would have to keep on lying about him. Why doesn’t she realize the gravity of what she’s doing? It’s as if her thinking it’s just a game is supposed to keep us thinking that this is a comedy.
3. Whoopi as Thomas Jefferson
Eventually needing to show real proof of Cutty, Laurel gets her drag queen friend (doesn’t everyone have one of those?) to dress her up with full latex mask and long white wig as an old white man fit to be accepted by these Wall Street misogynists. And yup, she looks exactly like Thomas Jefferson (see below).
I sort of get the idea, but I think there’s no way that anyone would buy that. She looks like something in Madam Tussaud’s. And the trick is just…done. It’s not that interesting a device, in a not that interesting movie, used to get across a very heavy-handed message about race and gender. I mean, was the long hair tied with a ribbon really necessary?
Please note: Mrs. Doubtfire came out three years before this. Hey, wait, maybe that’s where Laurel got her idea??
4. The nonchalant blowing up of cars to try to kill off Cutty
That’s right, Wall Street movie plus two working women blowing up a car! This isn’t light. This isn’t funny. Don’t you think people check on things like bodies and probable cause and crap like that? Thank goodness the police do enter into it a little bit. No it’s not a crime movie, but this just felt kind of stupid for them to blow up cars in the middle of New York and shed some really corny fake tears and not be noticed. I think it’s just that the whole movie had tone issues, so something as silly as almost forgetting to take the hook out of the med school skeleton they magically procured to be a stand in for Cutty in the car they’re about to torch just doesn’t quite play.
5. Bebe Neuwirth throwing herself at Thomas Jefferson
It’s a bit insulting to women everywhere, this stereotype of Bebe climbing the ladder by sleeping her way up. When she attacks Whoopi-dressed-as-Cutty in her hotel room, they actually fall over the couch in a big heap as Whoopi tries to avoid having Bebe discover that she doesn’t actually have a penis down there. And, of course, Bebe takes the tumble as a come on. Yes, it was sort of funny physical humor, until Cutty/Whoopi/TJ finally escapes out of the room and Bebe purrs, “What a man,” before falling back on the couch in a literal swoon. Thomas Jefferson made her swoon! I call Bullshit!
This isn’t a farce and I don’t buy her actually liking him in a million years. TONE, people. Pick one.
* I don’t blame Bebe for this, who is amazing, as usual, with relative crap to go on. I blame the director. And the writer. And others.
So that’s 5. I realize they are blending together a little bit, but it’s sort of hard to break it down since everything seems to have been a problem contributing to everything else. You know, small things like character, plot, and tone.
There was, however, one amazing moment. The best moment of the whole movie, and it is really worth being shared.
Frank (Tim Daly) realizes that Cutty is imaginary, but instead of calling out Laurel, he claims Cutty as his own, back from the jaws of “death,” taking the prestige and business with him. (Side note: I was sort of expecting a Working Girl-type turn here, when Laurel would ask Frank to prove where his ideas came from to expose him as a fraud since they were her ideas, but no such luck) Cutty is then accepted into the male-only (and also essentially white-only) Peabody Club and given Businessman of the Year. Laurel, who has at this point lost her license, realizes how to stick it to Frank and The Man all at the same time, and shows up at the club as Cutty to accept the award, full Thomas Jefferson getup in effect. You know what’s coming just reading this, right? The moment when she unmasks herself…and it does arrive. But before that happens, ladies and gentlemen, your moment of awesome:
After surprising the shit out of Frank who was accepting the award on Cutty’s behalf, seeing as Cutty doesn’t exist, (s)he says that (s)he wants to share the award with Frank, because (s)he really owes it all to him. Then Cutty plants a big one on Frank on the lips, making out with him for a good ten seconds! It’s shock for the old fogies in the room, and I’m divided on whether it’s the worst or best problem for them, considering they’re about to find out that “he” is a she and that she’s black. Perhaps they’d accept a little man-boy love in comparison. Or perhaps they’re extremely relieved because she’s actually a woman and the gay problem isn’t real.
In any case, right after the kiss that shakes the room, there is a brief shot of two bespectacled businessmen in the room who share a look and then grasp hands. I laughed and smiled and loved this sweetest of moments: a brief glimpse of these two closeted men excited that their day has finally come. That a change is finally on its way and maybe they’ll be accepted too now that this uber successful (if fake) businessman showed everyone. This is not the change that does come, and the moment is lost in the unmasking that comes next, but I thought it was hilarious, awesome, delightful quiet moment that was thrown in there. A glimpse of other groups hiding their status in this bullshit corporate money world. That’s it’s not just Whoopi against the world. In light of current issues of equality in the country today, I also thought this was a great nod from a not-so-hot movie made 13 years ago. It’s the only real moment in there, the only part of this very simple illustration of overthrowing the power structure that isn’t didactically annoying.
Cheers to Donald Petrie, the director, for that moment and only that moment. That’s all the cheers you get.
Also, for your enjoyment, I give you…THOMAS JEFFERSON!