The Associate (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Associate is Tootsie in reverse. It doesn't start out that way, but that's where it ends up.

Whoopi Goldberg plays the best financial advisor in New York, a brilliant analyst who is locked out of the big time in the investment world because she is a funny-lookin', dreadlock-wearin', Annie Hall-dressin' little black woman. Her white male associates steal her ideas and weasel their way into upper management.

There is only one way for her to get around the problem of not being a good old boy. She becomes one. At first she just creates a fictitious one as her partner. She opens her own firm with the non-existent middle-aged white man as her unseen partner. She goes to great pains to create a complete life for her missing partner, one that will dazzle her prospective clients, including big game trophies, Harvard diplomas, pictures autographed by JFK and Joe Montana, etc. The fictional "Robert Cutty" is invariably "out of the office" when people call, because he is taking lunch with the President or the Pope or Alan Greenspan or somebody equally important.

Unfortunately, Whoopi's imaginary white male partner ends up undermining her just as much as the real ones always had. All the male clients want to do business with someone like themselves, therefore with the unseen white-haired financial guru, and not the quirky sista, so the situation evolves to a point where "Robert Cutty" can no longer avoid face-to-face meetings.

Up until that mid-point in the film, the script had been a reasonably tidy little light comedy/drama with some social commentary, ala Trading Places. Whoopi did a good job of managing the central conflict, i.e. the fact that her partner was never there. There were some cute cameos from Donald Trump and other New York celebs, and the film was rolling alone fairly well. The ultimate corporeal appearance of the previously unseen Cutty, however, changed the nature of the film and created a high hurdle in the middle of what had previously been a sprint on flat ground. The focus of the viewers' attention suddenly became, "Can Whoopi Goldberg play a senior white male financial guru convincingly". The answer is a qualified "yes". Whoopi did a surprisingly good job with the voice, the mannerisms, the body language, and the walk. She is not Dustin Hoffman, but you could believe that she really might fool her business acquaintances for short periods of time in the right circumstances. Sadly, the make-up department really let her down. She looked like she was wearing Chief Dan George's death mask, complete with pony tail. (In fact, now that I think about it, she looked exactly like an older version of The Indian in Body Double, another character which was formed by a latex disguise.)

This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, because it spoils the illusion of credibility that she had been maintaining, thus spoiling the fun of the film. Second, and possibly even more important, it reveals that the writer didn't know what the hell he was doing, thus spoiling the film's serious points as well. For the ruse to work in real life, Whoopi would have needed to be not only ANY white man, but a specific type of white man. In order to fit in with her clients, she needed to be conservative, clean-cut, and distinguished but not flashy, ala Donald Rumsfeld. The REAL corporate world would have found the eccentric hippy-looking old Cutty to be no more acceptable than Whoopi's own natural appearance. The screenwriter's blissful ignorance of this point makes the second half of the film play out like some third-rate effort in 60s theater of the absurd, after the first half had made some pretty nifty little social observations.

'Tis a pity.

More's the pity that the film is also missing a vital comic spark. Whoopi's cronies and confidantes are played by earnest, unfunny Dianne Wiest and the stock transvestite best friend necessary in all such movies to provide disguises. In other words, the usual suspects. Tootsie, on the other hand, had wisecrackin' Bill Murray to comment on the action, and thus to turn the alleged comedy into an actual comedy by adding a little thing we comedy buffs like to call "laughter". There is no Bill Murray substitute to be found in this cast.

The final problem with the film is that it fails to meet the minimum requirement for a cross-identity gimmick because one of the two identities has no personality. In Tootsie, Dorothy Michaels is actually more interesting than Michael Dorsey, despite the fact that she doesn't exist. The same is true of Mrs Doubtfire. In this film, the fictional character is a cypher, nothing but a voice coming from underneath some latex, and not someone that we think we know.


Bebe Neuwirth shows her buns twice in skimpy Victoria's Secret-type thong underwear.

DVD info from Amazon

  • no features except a trailer

  • widescreen, but letterboxed, and an unremarkable transfer

So the film came and went without being noticed, and is now only vaguely remembered.

In truth, The Associate is not a horrible movie at all. It is a pleasant enough watch. If the script had created a real Robert Cutty, with his own personality, the clean-cut appearance of a respected financial magnate, and a decent make-up job, Whoopi might have been able to mold this into something special, because she seemed to be able to play a man without artificiality. If the writers had then replaced Dianne Wiest with somebody with a gift for wisecracks, ala Carole Lombard in those 30s films, the film might have been able to attain classic status. As it is, it's unremarkable and unmemorable, a chicken soup movie.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two stars. James Berardinelli 2/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed only $12 million dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. It is an OK movie, but it "cudda been a contenda", and wasn't.

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