By Indiewire | Indiewire December 12, 2001 at 2:0AM
REVIEW: Channing Shines in Stettner's Uneasy Layover, "The Business of Strangers"
by Andy Bailey
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Andy Bailey reviewed Patrick Stettner's "The Business of Strangers" earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The film opened last weekend in New York, L.A. and San Francisco and will open in additional cities this Friday.]
While it's easy to write off serviceable Dramatic Competition entry, "The Business of Strangers" as "In the Company of Women" -- the film's popular moniker among Park City pontificators -- Patrick Stettner's polished first feature does a laudable job of examining the fear and loathing among women determined to get ahead, or simply stay afloat, in corporate America. The film, perhaps inevitably, progresses towards a ballbusting psychosexual revenge climax that feels like an indie retread of "9 to 5," but its two deftly drawn central characters prove formidable enough adversaries to keep the movie feeling fresh.
Anchored by a career-best performance by Stockard Channing as fast-track frequent flyer Julie Styron, a peripatetic executive of a certain age who's unsure of her footing in the corporate hierarchy (she's got the bloated calves to prove it) Channing ambles through a faceless Midwest delivering one methodical presentation after another, convinced each pitch might be her last. When audiovisual assistant Paula Murphy (Julia Stiles) fails to show up at a crucial meeting, Julie flips out and fires her on the spot. Paula, a sharp-tongued stick figure in chunky platforms, dismisses Julie as "über-frau" and clodhops back to the airport.
Julie holes up in an executive hotel awaiting the emergency arrival of the company CEO, whom she believes has flown in with termination papers. After meeting with cocky corporate headhunter Nick Harris (Frederick Weller) to discuss future opportunities, the stunned exec discovers she's been promoted to CEO. While slugging down a celebratory scotch (alone) in the hotel bar, Julie spots Paula at a nearby table