Working Girls (1986) Poster


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Bongo wants to take a show.
mwittier4 May 2001
Working Girls (not to be confused with the singular and singularly awful Mike Nichols movie that features Melanie Griffith vacuuming a carpet, nakedly) is an easily underestimated accomplishment, and despite the rampant nudity and unblinking depictions of adult sexuality, a guaranteed sex-deterrent.

It's hilarious, embarrassing, grim, deeply disturbing, cynical, touching, clinical and creepily locker-room-intimate, all at the same time.

There will be those people who can't make it past the low budget vibe that (admittedly) permeates the whole movie, but anyone who criticizes its occasionally stilted acting (and it's an easy target) misses the point: it's PROSTITUTION. Which is to say that paid sex is possibly the root source of all bad acting. Even having said that, the performances are deceptively understated in their squirmy, quasi-nude ease.

The characters of Lucy and Dawn especially, are horrifically too-true. I walked around mimicking Lucy's idiotic "What's new and different?" for weeks. Dawn's gum-snapping hostility, and her impromptu James Brown imitation ("Good God, Mollie- you're a whoooore!") are as grating as they are winning. Singling these two actresses out is unfair though; their characters are especially dynamic, given that they're essentially opposing ends of the same spectrum of self absorption.

Even the least likely supporting roles are realized with unexpected complexity. Witness Lucy, the house's madam, reprimanding Mary, a mousy new 'girl' for her unappealing wardrobe choice on her first night on the job. When Lucy reminds her condescendingly that she is to dress as though she "just came from lunch with her mother, and is on her way to meet her boyfriend for drinks", Mary replies in a small voice, with a discomfiting mixture of stubborness and shame, "This is what I wore."

Possibly the most remarkable aspect of this movie is the realization that prostitution, at least at this elevated level (the 'girls' work in a clean, modern apartment, and schedule 'appointments' through phone ads listed mostly in upscale skin magazines) is just another daily grind, a job, plain and simple. Ellen McElduff's Lucy is every thoughtless, self-absorbed boss you've ever wanted to throttle; the difference is that she's seen you naked, and can talk about your sex life with no legal repercussions.

That's glib, of course; each of the 'girls' is seen to struggle with the work, and what it means in a larger sense, politically and personally. Finally though, just as it seems uncompromisingly grim, the film sneaks in a remarkable twist. It's essential to watch to the very end of the closing credits though, or you might miss a moment that offers a lovely moment of reassurance, and tender domesticity.
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Realistic and insightful
MeYesMe19 May 1999
What we see is a day in the life of a brothel working girl. This is no cartoonish whorehouse with supermodels in garter belts sucking poutily on their fingers while lounging suggestively on chaise lounges in a gaudy parlor. These are real-looking women at the workplace.

Nothing unusual happens today. Someone calls in sick, someone has to pick up an extra shift, someone new starts work, lunch is ordered, jokes are shared, co-workers talk about how much they hate their boss, just a normal day, just a normal job.

Only it's not a normal job. This is such an honest film, it blew me away. Prostitution isn't glamorized, nor is its depiction harsh enough to scare you straight. Good script, well worth seeing.

The drawback? Obvious amateurs in most of the roles. Sometimes the acting is wooden -- but it can be forgiven because everything else is anything but.
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An interesting and non exploitative look at the modern sex worker.
Pedro_H1 September 2004
Molly is a thirty something college educated sex worker looking for a change of career. However the sex industry seems to have a tight hold over her and her life.

Lizzie Borden is a committed feminist so the choice of making a film about a subject such a prostitution and sex is not an obvious one. While this is low budget, and some of the sideline acting amateurish, this a film that makes you think and maybe even change your views. While a lot is crammed in to the one day that it covers you get the feeling that is written by someone that has been there and seen it for real.

The central question is who is exploiting who here? The affluent clients that buys sex is sneered at and joked about ("here comes Fantasy Fred"): but only by women that are either too lazy to do something else or maybe too inefficient to find other work. Or maybe they couldn't stand the pay cut?

Here we have all types of "working girl" from the college girl to the ageing black girl that is never chosen despite her best efforts. It is not a job everyone can do and the film demonstrates this clearly and without sentiment.

Molly doesn't even like men in real life - being in a lesbian relationship, but fakes it well. Even doing a lesbian scene with a new girl and then denying her sexuality to her when questioned. Her life is one of a hands-on actress. She is cleverer than most and has "regulars" that chose her for her chat as much as her sex. They even give her their cards hoping that they will become friends in the real world - something that can never be. There is always that old white line.

I came to this film believing that it would have an agenda, but it doesn't. It asks questions, but it doesn't answer them. Should sex be bought and sold in modern day society? The female brothel owner believes that sex and money are the best things in society so "why not bring them together."

Molly seems trapped, despite her education and alternative career options. Yes she can do better, but can she make the break? The other girls are, in the main, different in that they know their place - they don't want to rise above it. Her lesbianism probably helps in that she isn't confused as to why a man is having sex with her - but at the same time she is dismissive of them and even claims that the job has helped her to get over her innate "fear of men." She is also not above cheating so she can keep more of the money she makes.

(In the sex industry stealing is different from stealing in the outside world?)

This is quite a unique film in that it takes on the subject in cold blood, but it doesn't seek to give any indication as to why men chose this type of sex over - say - masturbation. Nevertheless the boredom and loneliness of the inner city (New York) has to be a factor. Like there isn't one type of client, there isn't really one form of answer.

I started the film not knowing if Molly was a victim or not and ended up still not knowing. You can make your own mind up, but if she is a prisoner she is a prisoner of the love of the quick-buck that must be hard to break away from in today's high price world. I am glad I am not in her (high heeled) shoes now, then or anytime...
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preppy-319 October 2000
A day in the life of a woman who is a prostitute in a brothel-a very high class brothel. Nothing really happens--her and the other girls sit around and talk and serve clients. The movie does not glamorize prostitution. It shows it as a grueling, painful and demoralizing job. The script is sharp and on-target and most of the performances are good. Not great film, but well-made.
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An honest film. Documentary feel. A wonder it was ever made.
sullivanradley7 September 2004
WORKING GIRLS is the farthest thing from a Hollywood film. One of the oddest, most original, and refreshing films I have ever seen. Stimulating, without feeling pornographic. Lizzie Borden handles the subject-matter well -- in her tender, loving woman-hands. I wish I could get MY HANDS on some of her other films -- BORN IN FLAMES was what I had in mind. There is an excellent chapter on her in John Russo's (book) MAKING MOVIES. WORKING GIRLS will embarrass those who are not comfortable with the darker side of their nature -- and will bore those who desire no substance, just the old in-out. WORKING GIRLS doesn't feel the least bit exploitive. I loved the film, and I wish that Lizzie was still making movies -- movies that could find their way to my local cineplex.
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Surprisingly engaging and unbiased .
filmbuff19748 July 2007
Molly is an over educated lesbian who works as a prostitute in order to save up enough money to start her own business. Her coworker prostitutes she works with have various other reasons for getting into this line of work. The johns are mostly upscale and have their own individual idiosyncrasies that are for the most part amusing. The director of the film is a feminist named Lizzie Borden. I expected a very biased treatment of this subject because of her gender politics but she was surprisingly fair and unbiased in her treatment. Despite some average acting the characters are so fascinating and dialog so engaging that the film had my attention all throughout which says much because there are many higher budgeted films with very large budgets and top talent that covered the same subject and not nearly as well. Working Girls is a good film and well worth a look.
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Real life approach to New York brothel works
PeterMitchell-506-5643646 November 2012
Here is one film from 1987 that stands alone. I've seen this movie numerous times. I love it. Everyone else, that I've given this movie to, hates it, or just doesn't like it. It''s my brother in law's worst movie. He was pulling incredulous looks, when he watched it with me and my sister, he actually thought it was that bad. I'm sure most escorts would tell you, this film is true to fact. It opens up, where our main character Molly, who's into photography, and shares her New York apartment with her lesbian lover and kids, is getting ready for the day. Hardly any dialogue takes place here, and we have this interesting piece of music that accompanies it. Then it's off to work on her bicycle and we get into the story. It's basically Molly's story, a day in the life of a brothel worker. There in this ordinary looking apartment that operates as a brothel, we meet some other girls. Only a couple of them are moderately good looking. Their male clients are mostly ordinary looking, intellectual forties to sixties types, a mixture of pathetic, obscene, degrading, cruel, some who are good hearted types. A younger client, a musician who's been harassing Molly to get together with him on the outside, gets forceful with her, providing a dangerous touch to the film and shows you that small minority of clients you don't need. Most of the actress's here, have only done one or too films, which gives it that documentary feel and it works. One of the exclusions is Ellen Mcduff (that kooky waitress in Maximum Overdrive) who's the star performer as the heartless Madam Lucy. She's fantastic. Another good performance is Amanda Goodwin (Whore) one of the younger, fiesty, and more popular workers, Dawn, who Lucy rides a lot, but our independent Dawn dishes it back, one scene provoking Lucy to slap her. I love it. It's the characters of the tricks that make the movie work, some of them wanting some really weird requests. We have one character, Fantasy Fred, a big burly guy, again, ordinary looking type, who sees all the new girls, like Molly. Here, Molly plays the blind virgin, and Fantasy Fred, is the one who can cure her blindless-follow. We have a sixties client/lawyer, another of Molly's fans who wants to get together on the outside. He, a valued client, likes dominatrix. They have a special room, called the jungle room. While being tied down and whipped, right in the middle of it, he interrupts the middle of the show by asking the time. Nearly all of the film takes place in the apartment, save for a couple of scenes that has Molly out, buying a heavy inventory of contraceptives, etc. The male pharmacist, saying "You don't take any chances, do ya?". Another scene has her spying on her lesbian's daughter, in the playground of her kindergarten. Then it's back to work. We really get to be part of the story with these girls, even sharing a rushed lunch hour for em'. We even celebrate a worker's fiftieth birthday, as well as meet a new girl starting, the second best looking, to Gina. One of her first jobs has her making out with Molly, which she's phobic about, and it isn't soon before this young lass is packing her bags. We have madam Lucy out at lunch with her boyfriend, married of course, who has to rush back as the phones are kept putting on hold. She's goes absolutely ape. This woman really doesn't give a s..t about her girls, just money and jewellery as it so happens. After being drained with clients and considering an offer from the latter of em', it's great how Molly finally confronts her at the end, before quitting, you almost want to be there with her. The end is very much like the start with Molly cycling home, hypnotic music again (a great New York night shot, stopping on the way to by some flowers. What I love about Working Girls, is it doesn't try to be something it isn't with flashy sets, big stars, or larger that life characters. What we have here is real life. And if you can't accept that, you're probably not gonna like this. Highly recommended.
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Realistic look at a very 'realistic' profession
chrisd3198912 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I have to admit that the only reason I had an interest to see this movie was because of Ellen McElduff, who plays Lucy, because I wanted to see her in something else. I had a completely different expectation from this movie, but I wasn't disappointed. This being a low budget 80s movie seemed very "worn", but I loved it. The music was cool to listen to.

Aside from that, I was appalled by how respectable young women would want to subject themselves to a job so grueling and rough. Especially because Molly is college educated and could easily work to get in to a good job. I guess you do what you have to do. This film was so real, my jaw dropped with certain scenes. I didn't expect to see so many older men show up, and I felt for the girls having to "satisfy" them. When Lucy kept wanting Molly to stay for an extra hour and then another extra hour, I felt so horrible for her, as she looked so fed up. Some of the clients and the scenes with them were especially disturbing. I really liked the end when Molly turned her back on the business and left Lucy without a solid regular. I also thought that having the film start and end with Molly and her girlfriend sleeping in bed (coming full circle) was genius.

Ellen McElduff did a great job as Lucy. I can't see how Ellen never received more leading roles. She played Lucy so well and played a B**CH perfectly. A perfect example of a boss you can hate.

Overall, an unexpected gem. (9 out of 10)
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I am a ''John'' myself, this movie is so true to the ''T''
onetrackmind-830405 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Wel, I stumbled on this movie. Back in 1986, I was a tween, I was too young to see it in the theatres and I don't remember being available in the video stores. I wanted to see it for a long time. I just wished I saw it earlier. I only got to see it this week-end because this movie is so hard to find.

Alright, back to the subject at hand, this movie is so authentic. I am a ''john'' myself. I had confidences from sex workers from in-call agencies. And in this movie, it's the real deal.

I understood why it won best honours at the Sundance Film Festival in 1987 because Lizzie Borden really did her homework.

I used to be a ''john'' who wanted to see the girls outside of their work, when I saw that on the screen, I was like ''oh my god! that used to be me!''.

So this movie deserves a 10 in my book because of its authenticity, it's a good drama, it doesn't fell into sensationalism, it's just real.

I hope Lizzie Borden gets to make more movies because Working Girls (1986) was enjoyable, even though the ''johns'' are supporting characters, I just feel related to the movies because ladies confided to me about those type of situations.


If you expected a soft-core porn, you will be disappointed. Like it has been stated, it has this documentary feel to it.

Kudos to the movie.
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Polaris_DiB9 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A couple of years ago I was given the opportunity to see Born in Flames, and was completely amazed by a resounding and powerful experimental science fiction film about the issues surrounding feminism both internally and externally. I had never hoped that I would see Born in Flames on DVD until First Run Features released it about a year ago. However, as far as I knew, that was the only film by Lizzie Borden I'd ever get to see. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when Working Girls suddenly turned up on the rental shelf, also released by First Run Features.

Working Girls can be described as something like "the Office Space of prostitution movies." The characters in this film go to their job, sit in a stuffy room talking, complain about their management (a delightfully prissy and fluffy Madame named Lucy, who was easily one of the strongest points in the movie), and deal with their regular cycle of lonely men and weirdos.

Unfortunately, three major things work against this film. Firstly, both the cinematography and music is very 80s, which both takes away from its timeless feel (something that would be important in a film about women's role in society) and generally looks and sounds awful to contemporary audiences. Secondly, a lot of the acting is for the most part completely atrocious. Some of the actors manage themselves nicely, mostly the women, but for the most part Working Girls barely contains the emotional umph of a bad 80s sitcom. Thirdly, whereas the loose plot of the film was very fitting for most of the movie, the ending was one of those ridiculous institutions that felt like it came right out of either complete laziness to figure out how to wrap things up, or worse, out of some writer's workshop.

It's weird to think of this movie as so half-developed and dated, considering how intelligent Born in Flames is at speaking directly to the issues. Part of the problem is that the dialog these women have can be summed up in a blanket statement of "women's role in society", but despite the education of Molly and the use of different characters as synecdoche for the part of society they represent, this movie has a real austere and clean feel to it that keeps it away from having impact. I do think it's interesting to have a movie about prostitution that doesn't spend a significant portion of the screen time to sexual obsession, and this movie is at least frank and direct about the sexuality. However, the key thing is that it lacks impact and it's message is slightly blurred by the "well, anyone can get out of this because we do have a choice" theme.

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maxtshea14 February 2008
Molly is a pitiful and confused young woman in need of psychiatric intervention. She is no heroine. You will these HB0-type "documentaries" about prostitution focus on high end brothels. Here again Lizzie Borden is credited with being "gritty" and "realistic" even though though the spoiled over-grown teenagers in this house of prostitution do not represent the state of prostitution worldwide, which is a dangerous criminal underworld of rape, disease, drugs, murder, slavery, and child molestation. "Working Girls" does the same kind of disservice to REAL women's issues, globally speaking, as do "Pretty Woman" and the "Vagina Monologues." I gave the film such a low rating because of its deceptive message. On the basis of cinematography, directing, and acting, it rises from terrible to sub-mediocre.
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Dated artifact of the "Sexual Politics" era of the early 1970s?
brucetwo-218 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Women as hapless sainted martyrs. Yeah--right. Lizzie Borden the director--what kind of name is that?--the alleged ax murderer of 19th century Fall River Massachusetts. The main character in this Working Girls movie can't get a job as a secretary or doesn't want to, so she "has to" become a hooker in Manhattan! Believe it or not, ladies--there are other options and career choices besides those two. You would not know that from this movie though!

This is a mid-1980s movie, but it smacks of the sexual politics era of the late 1960s-early 1970's, when many women didn't know all that much about sex and had to use a lot of political jargon to express their urges. Books like "Sexual Politics" and "Our Bodies Ourselves" and "The Women's Room."

Many of these books of that era were written by gay women who were unwilling or unable to state that they were gay or that they were expressing a "gay women's" political point of view. Their assertions were always that all women should hate men and be gay, because they could not understand anything else--they could not comprehend any kind relationship between men and women other than hostility and exploitation. Yep--that was the early 1970's!

So the main character in this film--the older hooker in the brothel--when she is not having sex for money with unlikeable men--is living at home with her teenage gay lover. But in fact, despite the "politics" of this movie, having sex with underage women is still a crime, regardless of the gender of the "adult."

In this film this woman is presented as some kind of People's Hero. But if a male character in this movie was having sex with a teenage girl he would be considered a "monster" or "predator." Talk about the double standard! Do not become hookers folks, and do not have sex for money, and do not have sex with underage women! And maybe skip this film. OK?
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