Judge Aaron Bossig leaps to the defense of the TV movie.
They're cleaning up on Wall Street and turning trash into cash!
At first glance, the DVD edition of Working Tra$h appears to be a forgotten TV movie that only exists on DVD in order to earn some money off of early performances by Ben Stiller and George Carlin. Truthfully, that's probably exactly what it is. However, if you dismiss the movie as merely that, you miss out on a diamond in the rough. It may be a TV movie, but it was crafted with big-screen standards. The intent was to make something different and edgy to show on the young Fox network.
Facts of the Case
In the late '80s, making your living on the New York Stock Market was an impressive feat. Before the Internet, cell phones, and CNBC brought high finance into people's living rooms, trading stock was something for trained professionals in expensive suits.
This is where Freddy (Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents) comes in. He lives and breathes the market, but without the expected education and experience, he can't hope to be taken seriously as a stockbroker. The firm will barely even allow him to become the janitor. That's where he meets Ralph (George Carlin, Dogma), his mentor in the refuse collection trade. Ralph is a good guy with a bad gambling habit. When Ralph needs a couple thousand dollars to pay off his bookie, he convinces Freddy to start handling his investments—and the investments of every blue-collar worker Ralph knows.
What separates Working Tra$h from other TV movies is its refusal to be trite, by avoiding the little things that make TV movies so ordinary. Initially, I found the romance between Freddy and Susan (Leslie Hope, Dragonfly) to be lacking. She shows indifference to him at first, and then becomes attracted to him when she notices his success in the stock market. At first, I thought she was shallow and one-dimensional, and it was disappointing because I really couldn't like such a character. Just when I gave up hope, she redeemed herself by defending him in front of her executive colleges. What could have been a weakness of the script ends up being a strength. We get to see her character grow.
Even more pleasing is the great cast. In addition to Stiller and Carlin, Working Tra$h has extremely talented people rounding out the cast, including Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) and a personal favorite, George Wallace. Crowning the entire ensemble is Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), long-time TV veteran. Buddy's presence takes a decent movie and gives it a touch of class: a guy who embodies the charm of classic TV, mixing talents with a younger cast on a movie for a brand-new network.
Working Tra$h may not be an important piece of cinematic history, but it's commendable that one movie could stand witness to a great grouping of comedians, the rise of one star, the dignified retirement of another, and the baby steps of a major broadcast network.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite all its charms, Working Tra$h is still a TV movie, for better or worse. It's an extremely well-done TV movie, intentionally made to look like a theatrical film, but it's still appropriate fare for a Saturday Afternoon Matinee. The storytelling is paced to be interrupted by commercials, and the content is strictly "PG" in nature.
I have more of a problem with the way the movie looks than anything else. The image is extremely soft and the colors appear washed out. True, many movies of the late 1980s and early 1990s were intentionally soft, and this is one of them, but Working Tra$h is exceptionally fuzzy. The movie simply hasn't aged well, visually. It's also presented in an Open Matte form of fullscreen. Working Tra$h was originally composed for widescreen and protected for fullscreen, and this is evident when you note the extra headroom in many scenes. Still, it was created for TV broadcasts, so more care was put into the open matte presentation than would otherwise be expected. At any rate, this title is a good argument for having both versions included in the same package.
Sometimes it is unsporting to endlessly hunt for faults in a TV movie made on a shoestring budget. What's important is that it's a reasonably well-made movie that stars some fine comedic actors. The DVD, while visually unimpressive, does provide a nice audio commentary from the director and producer.
The court can find no fault with this simple, but fun movie. Case dismissed.
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