10 Top Career Films: Part One

By Paula Santonocito

smw - 10 top career films, part oneAlthough pundits say people go to the movies to escape, films do more than take viewers away from the day-to-day. In fact, the movies that often move us the most are those to which we can relate.

While offering entertainment, films can also provide us with insights into the many facets of our lives. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given we spend so many of our waking hours at work), a lot of films tackle various aspects of the employment experience.

Here, in no particular order, are a few films that get it right when it comes to work and career-related issues.

Last Chance Harvey. This wonderful film, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, inspired this SingleMindedWomen.com Career article. The movie tackles the tough topic of a mid-life relationship with gentle accuracy, and it realistically portrays people lost in the wrong jobs.

Hoffman and Thompson play two middle-aged single people struggling at work, with family relationships, and with romance. Thompson is perfect as a single woman doing her best to deal with her circumstances, which include a tedious, unsatisfying job and a demanding mother, and Hoffman is nothing short of brilliant in the title role of Harvey, a man who long ago settled for less in terms of career and who now finds himself on the verge of losing his job as he attends the wedding of his estranged daughter.

Film critics focus on the romantic elements of the story, but the work-related scenes in “Last Chance Harvey” are to be equally commended.

Kramer vs. Kramer. If you’ve never seen “Kramer vs. Kramer,” released in 1979, you owe it yourself to rent this movie.

Dustin Hoffman plays a married man obsessed with work, while Meryl Streep, in the role of his soon-to-be ex-wife, seeks to reclaim her identity, including her career. Caught in the middle of their failed relationship is their young son.

When it was released 30 years ago, the film was groundbreaking for its treatment of gender stereotypes. From today’s vantage point, it shows how both men and women struggle with work-life balance and the difficulties of single parenting. The film also addresses what was, in 1979, not that common and today can still be difficult to navigate: a relationship where the woman earns more than the man.

Career issues figure heavily in this film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hoffman and Streep also received Oscars for their performances.

The Remains of the Day. Just as Hoffman in “Last Chance Harvey” brings to mind his stellar performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” Emma Thompson in “Harvey” evokes another role she played, Miss Kenton, housekeeper to a wealthy Englishman in the Merchant Ivory classic, “The Remains of the Day.”

Miss Kenton’s coworker and love interest in the film is the butler, played flawlessly by Anthony Hopkins.

The story spans the time prior to World War II, when the two worked together, and years later when they meet again. The main focus is the relationship between the lead characters, with an emphasis on decisions made and not made.

However, the film is also about boundaries and perceived propriety, on individual and professional levels. Additionally, it’s about how work can define a person, to the exclusion of all else.

Working Girl. This 1980s classic is the quintessential single woman’s career film, even if you weren’t in the workforce during the era of power suits with shoulder pads.

The movie stars Melanie Griffin as Tess McGill, an ambitious single secretary from Staten Island who works on Wall Street. McGill faces challenges to which some SingleMindedWomen.com readers will likely relate: the desire to further her career and improve her life while friends are content to stay in place, a condescending and manipulative boss, and a cheating boyfriend, to name a few.

With a cast that includes Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Cusack, and a younger, thinner Alec Baldwin as the boyfriend, not to mention wonderful footage of New York City, “Working Girl” is a must-see for every single working girl.

Baby Boom. Another 80s film that seems to have been made with single-minded women in mind is “Baby Boom,” which stars Diane Keaton as a successful career woman who suddenly finds herself as a single mother.

Keaton’s character, J.C. Wiatt, tries her best to juggle a high-powered New York City career, before abandoning it and the city and becoming an entrepreneur in Vermont.

The transition from exec to entrepreneur and single woman to single mother is fraught with obstacles, laughs, and no doubt a few “I can relate” moments from viewers who have gone through either or both.

Tune in next week for Part Two of this article.

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