Have you ever seen a car crash? Have you felt the world slow down around you as you watched someone blow a stoplight, veer into the other lane or feed the gas despite the sea of read tail lights? Even if you’ve only ever watched someone trip, you know the feeling. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to pre-cognition. You can see the future, but you’re firmly, achingly stuck in the present. Working Woman is an exercise in seeing the future. Despite a delicate sprinkling of unexpected scenes towards the end, you know what’s going to happen. And when it’s going to happen. And how it’s going to happen. It would be frustrating, if it weren’t also so haunting.
Instead, Working Woman puts those feelings to work. It takes your uselessness, of knowing what is going to happen, but not being able to stop it and converts it into empathy. When Orna, a mother of three and partner to a husband with a failing restaurant gets a new job, her anxiety becomes your anxiety. When her demanding boss Benny pushes her to stay late, come in early and answer his every phone call, her stress becomes your stress. When he pushes the limit, going in for an inappropriate kiss and then delivering a lukewarm apology, you feel what she feels. Orna doesn’t continue working for Benny because she’s stupid, or that she doesn’t see what’s coming. She keeps working for him because she has to. Her husband has sunk all of their funds into his restaurant. Their kids need a new computer and school supplies. She’s good at her job and she needs that recommendation letter.
In one especially pivotal scene, the first time Orna sees Benny after he’s sexually harassed her, director Michal Aviad literally puts you in her shoes. As she enters his office, ready to confront him for his behavior, Orna is stopped by a gaggle of smiling, laughing employees. As Benny praises her performance to the room, a giant bouquet of flowers is shoved into her hands. The flowers, the people, the words overwhelm her frame and the scene. It’s not until the people start the filter out and Benny quiets down that the camera finally catches her expression. A mixture of shock and numbness, her reaction is no surprise. It’s the same way you’ve been feeling the entire time.
Despite the harassment, the assault, and the thousand smaller indignities Benny imposes onto Orna, actress Liron Ben-Shlush never plays her as helpless. She’s angry and sad and competitive and dazed and stubborn and clever, but almost never powerless. In a revenge lite twist, Orna gets as close as she can to confronting Benny, but this isn’t I Spit On Your Grave. Benny still has his wife, house and job, but Orna walks away having shaken him. It’s a bitter victory, but a victory nonetheless.
More than anything, it’s important to remember that Working Woman isn’t an original story. More likely than not, you know at least one person who has been harassed or assaulted in the workplace. Aviad’s film isn’t an especially creative take on a tale as old as time, but if it makes you feel more empathy. If it makes you more likely to believe. It’s already done its job.