Oscar® nominee* Stockard Channing ("The West Wing") gives "the finest performance of hercareer" and Julia Stiles (Save the Last Dance) "is arrestingly and provocatively ambiguous" (The San Francisco Examiner) in a film cri... more »tics are calling "riveting" (The Detroit News), "spring-taut" (Chicago Tribune) and "a pleasure to watch" (The Washington Post)! Two women on different rungs of the same corporate ladder meet on a business trip and swap stories over drinks. And after Paula (Stiles) intimates to Julie (Channing) that she'd been accosted by a mutual acquaintance, Nick (Frederick Weller), she enlists Julie's help in a revenge scheme against him. But as their plotting turns from cruel to criminal, Julie begins to wonder if she knows thewhole story behind Paula's malice or if Nick is even her true target. *1993: Actress, Six Degrees of Separation« less
"Near the beginning of this imaginative film when Paula Murphy (20-year-old Julia Stiles) and Julie Styron (Stockard Channing) meet in earnest, Paula tells Julie what she really does in life: "I'm a writer," she says. I write short stories about things that I experience. Nonfiction. "Fiction is too stupid, too neat. I like the sloppiness of real life." What we don't know at the time is that Paula is about to improvise just such a tale involving Julie, a tale that challenges the middle-aged executive's lifestyle and her assumptions about herself and inspires her to do things she wouldn't normally do.This is the "business of strangers." And this is the story within the story. Paula is the diabolical kind of person who is dedicated to introducing people to themselves so that she can watch them twist, a privileged, under-achieving Ivy League girl with machinations. Julie is a community college workaholic who never had time for a family, or love, or self-discovery, a lonely woman whose life is a parade of sterile hotel rooms, anonymous strangers, alcohol and pills. Although the story drags in a little in spots, the overall effect is edgy and fascinating, and the contrast between the principals keeps us wondering who is going to come out on top.The action really begins when Julie, in an expansive mood with some booze and her promotion to CEO, shows some interest in the girl she just fired for being late to a presentation. It's not clear what sort of interest that is. Julie responds as a spider coaxing a fly into the web, but it's not clear what she's up to. They go to the pool and play around, get on the treadmills at the gym and run. They go back to Julie's suite and drink some more.At this point I'm afraid that the film will deteriorate into a politically correct cliché of some kind, or a lesbian wish-fulfillment debacle, without anything really happening. Enter (or actually re-enter) Nick Harris (Fred Weller) who, Paula has confided to Julie, raped her best friend when they were undergraduates in Boston. This excites Julie's loathing and so the two women play out an improvised and drunken revenge scenario that is a bit over the top, but psychologically correct.After some intense emotional interaction, the film resolves surprisingly and rather neatly, allowing us to see that Paula has indeed spun out a tale whose moral might be, "watch out for young foxes." The scene in the airport emphasizes this, with Julie and Nick sheepishly sorting out last night's bizarre debauchery while trying to maintain their dignity, with Paula poised brazenly in plain sight wearing earphones, a smug silhouette in the distance.Patrick Stettner wrote the script, which, judging from the series of stationary settings and the limited cast, I suspect was originally a stage play. He also directed in a business-like manner, getting a saucy and smirk-laden performance from Stiles, whose originality and talent is obvious, and a steady and believable one from veteran Channing. Incidentally, Channing is a Harvard graduate who is perhaps best known for her performance as Betty Rizzo in Grease (1978) playing a teenager when she was 32-years-old! Here she braves some close camera work that starkly reveals the 57-year-old actress beneath the makeup. Yet, as always, Stockard Channing pleases us.But see this for Julia Stiles, a thoroughly professional player, whose arrogant, sneering, and edgy style add spice to, and partially disguise, her youthful mastery of the fine art of acting."
Dennis Littrell | 12/15/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Stockard Channing gives a dead-on performance in the intense psychological drama "The Business of Strangers." Co-starring Julia (Save The Last Dance) Stiles, the two hum in tune on screen and make a powerful pair. Stockard Channing plays Julie, a middle aged business executive attending and important meeting in a non-descript town. Julia Stiles is her assistant, Paula, who has the misfortune of showing up forty five minutes late for the critical meeting, enraging the executive. She appears as the meeting is ending and is promptly told she is fired. Both head to the airport where weather has delayed all flights and the two meet again at an airport hotel. In the interim, Stockard's harried executive has learned she is to be appointed CEO, as opposed to being fired as she had suspected and her mood shifts from nerve wracking worry to celebration. Stockard's Julie apologizes to the young assistant and unfires her. Stuck in the drab airport hotel they head off to the health club and later the airport bar. The drab executive and the wild side type Xer have share a few laughs and bond. We are clued in to things not being quite so bright as we see the young Paula snoop through the bosses' things while in her bathroom and palm a tissue full of her various prescriptions. Also, while using the health club Paula's various body art tattoos are exposed for thecamera indicating a darker side. (Earth to screenwriter: Almost all of GenX has at least one tattoo.) Later that night they meet up with a slimy executive search consultant. His slicked back hair and swarthy mannerisms telegraph his nature . The executive had met with him earlier as she prepared for her possible firing and the young assistant seems agitated at his presence, revealing to Stockard's character when they are alone that she knows him and that he raped a friend of hers in college several years ago.
Stockard is properly outraged and suggests something out to be done. The tale turns dark as the consultant is drugged and the opportunity for revenge is presented.
The film explores the balance of power, or lack of, women face in corporate America. Stockard's character is revealed to havelittle in the way of a life outside of her career and has devoted her life to the pursuit of career achievement. Julia Stiles character represents the rage she has felt and through whom she has the chance to express it. The slimy search executive the target of the rage.
The film works best when Stockard is on screen and is a testament to her strong presence. Julia Stiles shines as the psychologically disturbed assistant. The sequence where they have the powerless man and toy with revenge possibilities is nerve wracking and seat squirmingly uncomfortable. It is rare in American motion pictures to feature a male character who is rendered totally powerless. The film is raw in production values which serves to enhance a cinema verte, think Cops, like experience.
What left me wondering is how could Stockard's seasoned, bright executive fall for the rather obvious mind games that Stile's Paula is playing? She gives her plenty of clues and fails a classic test: If it defies common sense, the character would have to be an idiot to do it. Once the man is drugged, Stockard continues to play along which defies the very nature of her character. (The Deep End also suffered from this phenomenon.)
If you are looking for a drama about characters, not car chases or space aliens, and two magnificent performances then this film delivers.
A business trip to self discovery
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 01/04/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS is one of those oddball, little films that will never make it to wide release, but should resonate with meaning for a particular niche of viewers, in this case veteran road warriors, especially those dedicating their whole lives to The Job with the hope of getting the ultimate corner office and the gold-plated executive washroom key that says 'Lead Dog'.I haven't seen Stockard Channing in ages. Here, she and the young actress Julia Stiles appear respectively as Julie and Paula, road warriors for a major software firm, spending the night away from home, getting drunk and into mischief. The Board has just given Julie the Ultimate Promotion. Paula has just had her firing rescinded. (Earlier in the day, Julie's presentation to the Big Customer was botched because Paula, the A/V specialist required for the heavy lifting, showed up late, a victim of airline perversity. In a fit of pique, Julie sacked her. Now, marooned in a hotel together, they're almost pals.) At this point, a headhunter of Styron's acquaintance, Nick (Frederick Weller) appears, another victim of flight schedules gone awry. Paula claims to recognize him as the man that raped a friend of hers some years previous when all were together in college. Julie is shocked enough to tentatively condone Paula's ominous idea that they do something to punish Nick. What they proceed to do during the night to the unsuspecting fellow is the core of the script.Julie has sacrificed a 'normal' existence on the altar of Her Career with the hope of getting ahead. Her best friend is her secretary. One supposes that she doesn't even have a Pet Rock. On the other hand, Paula is into living for the moment, and is openly contemptuous of Julie's life choices. (Stiles is especially good at role playing a cheeky bad attitude.) During the ladies' interaction with Nick in the wee hours - "interaction" only loosely describing what occurs - the audience gets a glimpse of Julie's repressed emotions, as when she lashes out with an ink marker.From several years of experience, I can say that one of the things this film does nicely is depict the 'glamorous' existence of the business traveler: the missed plane flights, the sterile hotel rooms, the failed sales presentations, the austere airport waiting areas, and the constant need to stay in touch with the home office. It's no wonder, then, that Julie perhaps questions if her climb up the corporate ladder was worth it. THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS is an unusual suspense thriller. It's also a lesson in bartering away your life for something, and then thinking maybe, just maybe, you've been scammed."
Harsh Biting review of Women in Business
L. J Nary | Indio, CA United States | 02/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie is a portrait of two women who embrace their masculinity in order to make it in a man's world, business. At least that is how I see the movie. The two women meet, when Stockard Channing's character has the one up position over Julia Stiles's character. As the movie progresses, the two women try to achieve a balance of power between each other but their inability to trust gets in the way. It is a sad movie in that the women can't really seem to bond as you wish they could. Stiles's character keeps pushing the enevelope seeing how far she can go with Channing. Channing bites the hook for awhile and releases some powerful anger on another male character, who in my eyes seems purely an innocent bystander to these two women's agendas. The ending is strange and thought provoking. This masculine world in which these two women occupy, is it worth it? What about Stiles character, we see the picture she took of herself, doesn't it look lost and alone? Didn't Stiles say she didn't have any friends? Didn't Stiles character act oddly when she was making out with that guy from the bar? It makes you wonder if men have played the upper hand with her as of course they had with Channing's character. In business, you have to take alot of s@@@ from men. I know I've been there, no offense to all the men who read this. To me this movie shows lonliness, isolation, remember the scene of Channing talking to her therapist on the phone. No time to actually be face to face. How sad! The movie shows metal,technology and bright glaring light as a symbol for this artificial happiness and aloneness. The women can't really be friends because of their life choices. Stiles leaves Channing with a memento of their night together and it seems touching in a way, at least to Channing, she doesn't seem offended. To those planning to see the movie, it has some intense scenes, the violence is not bloody but it is violence none the less. Those who like a happy upbeat film, this is definately not for you. It is dark and sadly touching. I got alot from the film. I am still thinking about it, I feel sad for the loss of feminism that takes place in the cold hard heart of business in the city. Time to watch some Ally McBeal. Lisa Nary"
An offbeat character drama
Joe Sixpack -- Slipcue.com | ...in Middle America | 09/22/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles star in this offbeat, claustrophobic drama about two women who meet on a rather dismal business trip, then form an unlikely but strangely intense bond while stranded at an airport hotel. Each manipulates the other, and their encounter ends on an uneven and bitter note. This film has an interesting script and unusual pacing, and both actresses give fine performances. Stiles, who previously starred in the underrated teen dance drama "Save The Last Dance," is a real talent, someone to keep an eye on."