Friday October 25, 1996
Whoopi Goldberg is about the ugliest guy you'll ever see.
Disguised as the 70-year-old Wall Street wizard she creates as a front for her own investment company in "The Associate," she has the face of a corpse pulled out of the East River. Bloated and drained of color, with a shock of white hair tied back in a ponytail, she looks worse than Marlon Brando on "The Larry King Show."
It is both good and bad that we don't have to look at this character very long. Good for aesthetic reasons, bad because the film is lifeless without him. This walking cadaver, whom Goldberg's Laurel Ayres names Robert S. Cutty, after the Scotch, doesn't appear until well into the second hour of "The Associate," then only twice, and everything preceding is sluggish buildup.
"The Associate," directed by Donald Petrie ("Grumpy Old Men"), joins a long list of modern gender-switching comedies, all of which derive their humor from the illusion and the situations. Whether it's a man in drag, like Robin Williams in "Mrs. Doubtfire," or a woman going the other way, like Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria," it's the audience's knowing what the film's other characters don't know that makes it funny.
Robert Cutty delivers "The Associate's" biggest laughs, as well. Goldberg plays the character perfectly, affecting a raspy deep voice that would convince anyone, and Cutty's queasy kisser is no reflection on her.
The fact is, she's covered with so much chalk-white latex, it could be Brando under there. Whether it was because they thought the illusion was so bad or so good, the filmmakers chose to save it until the last half-hour, using its inevitability as the carrot to keep us with it.
"The Associate" is a career woman's revenge fantasy, the story of a financial genius who decides to stop banging her head against the low-hung glass ceiling of the Wall Street firm for which she works and strike out on her own. Unable to get men to take her seriously even then, she invents a male boss, Cutty, and hacks her way into the Internet to give him a rich, if mysterious, past.
With her genius and his name on her letterhead, she soon has Wall Street eating out of her hand, with everyone from the co-worker (Tim Daly) who'd betrayed her earlier to Donald Trump trying to get a face-to-face meeting with Cutty.
Meanwhile, this phantom figure is being pursued by gossip columnists, sneaky photographers, SEC investigators and an ambitious Wall Street groupie (Bebe Neuwirth) who intends to sleep with him as soon as possible.
At Laurel's side through all this is her heaven-sent secretary Sally (Dianne Wiest, grinning unbearably), who keeps her appointments straight and her mood elevated.
There are nice, if not particularly funny, moments throughout this grinding buildup to the day when Laurel will have to either cop to the charade--the number of felonies involved is never disclosed--or don a mask and go all the way. When you finally see that mask, you may not know whether to laugh or run.
The Associate, 1996. PG-13, for sensuality and an exotic dance club scene. An Interscope Communications-Polygram Filmed Entertainment production, released by Buena Vista. Director Donald Petrie. Producers Frederic Golchan, Patrick Markey, Adam Leipzig. Screenplay Nick Thiel. Cinematography Alex Nepomniaschy. Editor Bonnie Koehler. Music Christopher Tyng. Production designer Andrew Jackness. Art director Phil Messina. Costumes April Ferry. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. Whoopi Goldberg as Laurel Ayres/Robert S. Cutty. Dianne Wiest as Sally. Eli Wallach as Fallon. Tim Daly as Frank. Bebe Neuwirth as Camille.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times