Stockard Channing shines in an Oscar-worthy performance as Julie Styron, a middle-aged corporate executive slated to meet the bigwig of her company at an airport hotel bar. Julie fears the worst because the CEO is flying in to hear her presentation and thoughts of her termination dance in her head constantly. As if she doesn't have enough to worry about in terms of her own uncertain future, Julie fusses over the fact that her desirable and curvy youngish assistant Paula (Julia Stiles, Save the Last Dance, O) is late for the important meeting and is apparently unprepared. Julie abruptly dismisses the twentysomething woman when she finally shows up. Upon Paula's firing, Julie makes arrangements for the terminated young assistant to seek other avenues of employment through a shady corporate headhunter named Nick (Frederick Weller). Meanwhile, it turns out Julie is hit with sudden fortune when it's revealed that she is being made the big cheese of the company, therefore putting to rest her earlier paranoia. Ironically, Julie and Paula bond after a hectic evening of boozing, which culminates in the revelation the Nick is a rapist and all-around creep. The drunken duo then arrange for the lowlife to finally get his comeuppance.
Stettner's character manipulations are remarkably engaging. Julie's aging dinosaur is at the mercy of both the men above and the women below. But instead of taking us down an old road, Stettner makes her and her protégé joint heroines as they combat the real menace Nick. The question is posed: is the sisterhood between the maturing Julie and blossoming Paula real, or is it simply a façade manufactured by a couple of viper-induced vixens out to secure their own sense of identity?
There's no doubt that Stettner's direction and script are achingly honest, making for a superlative, bleak and powerful film. The dialogue is snappy and keenly observant. Channing's role as an edgy businesswoman looking for reassurances in a male-dominated arena of movers and shakers is her best since Six Degrees of Separation. Her corporate climber is complex, calculating, and affecting. Stiles's sense of dangerous radiance as the delicious-looking sidekick out to grab some gusto despite her cheerleader looks is effectively probing. The Business of Strangers is a disturbing, finely acted showcase that sheds new light on female angst and its place in office politics.
It's a nasty business.
Run time: 84 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd May 2002
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: IFC Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 73 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Patrick Stettner
Screenwriter: Patrick Stettner
Starring: Frederick Weller as Nick Harris, Marcus Giamatti as Robert