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The Associate  

Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Eli Wallach Directed by: Donald Petrie Written by: Nick Thiel

"The Associate" belongs to the category of films I like to refer to as "complication situation" movies. You know, where a little white lie evolves into a bigger white lie, and in order to cover up the bigger white lie, someone devises a scam which carries with it complications, and then we get more complications, and complications atop those complications, and on and on, until we see Whoopi Goldberg playing a sixty year old white guy. You know the story.

Laurel Ayers (Whoopi Goldberg) is a hard working business woman on Wall Street. But she quickly discovers that when you're a woman, hard work doesn't always equate to immediate advancement. The promotion she thought she was getting instead goes to her obnoxious co-worker (Tim Daly), whom she actually trained. Refusing to work for this guy, she decides to quit and start up her own firm. Unfortunately, that move doesn't help her much - she is still feeling the effects of sex discrimination. (In business meetings with potential clients, they tell her they love her ideas and proposals, but that their partners would never go for it, which is obviously a brush off.) She finally does get her business off the ground, with the help of a business-smart personal assistant (Dianne Wiest) and her newly-acquired partner, Robert S. Cutty. Where's the complication? Well, Robert S. Cutty doesn't really exist. And so the complication snowball begins to roll.

he movie wants to do a couple of things: it wants to make us laugh, and it wants to (I think) make a statement about women in the business world. Unfortunately, it doesn't do either one as well as it could have. One of the problems is that there isn't much tenacity to the character of Laurel Ayers. When allowed to cut loose, Whoopi Goldberg is as funny and brilliant as anyone I have ever seen. Here, though, her performance feels a bit stifled. Her character's actions are dictated by what the plot needs her to do at the appropriate time. For example, she doesn't actually "become" Robert Cutty until the third act, when she absolutely has to. If she's going to show these "big-wig" business men how good a woman in the business world can be, why not make her character devise a brilliant scheme from the outset, and have the story follow her as she tries endlessly to pull this thing off. (Similar to what Dustin Hoffman's character did in "Tootsie".) That might have worked better than having her hem and haw and slither and maneuver her way to the top. That would also have enabled Whoopi to sink her teeth into the role and have more fun with it.

The rest of the performances aren't bad, although the actors are not given much to do besides sitcom-style humor. The only exception is Dianne Wiest, who turns in the best performance as Sally Dugan, Laurel's assistant who used to work for the chauvinistic Frank Patterson (Daly). The scenes between Goldberg and Wiest are the freshest scenes in the movie.

The statement the movie seems to be making is that sometimes it may be necessary to go out on a limb, to not do things strictly "by the book" - and that bending the rules can be the key to unlocking the door to success. Maybe director Donald Petrie and writer Nick Thiel should have taken that same approach to this film.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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