The Associate is a 1996 American comedy film directed by Donald Petrie and written by Nick Thiel. The film, a remake of René Gainville's 1979 French film of the same name, which, in turn, was based on Jenaro Prieto's 1928 novel The Partner, stars Whoopi Goldberg, Dianne Wiest, Eli Wallach, Tim Daly, and Bebe Neuwirth, alongside Austin Pendleton and Lainie Kazan.
Investment banker Laurel Ayres (Whoopi Goldberg) is a smart and single woman trying to make it up the Wall Street corporate ladder, until one day she finds out that she is passed over for a promotion because she is a woman. Unable to face the fact that her less intelligent male protege, Frank Peterson (Tim Daly), has now become her boss, she quits and tries to start up her own company only to find out that the male dominated world of Wall Street is not interested in taking an African American woman seriously, and thus is forced to create a fictional white man, Robert S. Cutty (inspired by a bottle of Cutty Sark) in order to be judged on her own merits. Ayres' financial wisdom is joined by the intelligent and computer-savvy secretary Sally Dugan (Dianne Wiest), who also was not properly recognized for her talents. Together they are able to become the most successful independent stockbrokers in the world while helping a struggling high-tech computer company stay afloat.
However, the ruse eventually runs into problems, as Cutty is still getting credit for Ayres' great ideas, and competing firms and tabloid journalists are willing to do anything in order to bring the wealthy and elusive Cutty into the public and on their side. Thus Ayres is forced to get her best friend (who works at a nightclub as a female impersonator) to create an effective disguise in the mould of Marlon Brando to try to fool the naysayers; when that fails, she and Dugan decide to kill Cutty only to be charged with his murder. Frank uncovers the ruse and pretends that he is now the front man to world-famous Cutty.
The film ends with Ayres donning the Cutty disguise one last time to attend a meeting of the exclusive gentlemen's club to accept Cutty's awards and unmasking herself in order to teach the male-dominated industry the evils of racial and sexual discrimination. Ayres is finally given credit for her work and creates a huge business empire with her friends at the helm. Frank attempts to land a job with the business, only to be laughed off.
The soundtrack album for The Associate was released on October 15, 1996 by Motown Records. The soundtrack features Queen Latifah, Sophie B. Hawkins, American country singer Wynonna Judd, Canadian-American recording artist Tamia, CeCe Peniston, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson (both of The B-52s), Jamaican reggae singer Patra, and Swedish musician Louise Hoffsten.
The Associate opened theatrically on October 25, 1996 in 1,781 venues and earned $4,261,304 in its opening weekend, ranking sixth in the domestic box office. At the end of its run, the film grossed $12,844,057 domestically.
The film received negative reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 28% rating based on 18 critics, with an average rating of 5.2/10.
Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle finds Goldberg "very funny playing out her scheme, which inevitably backfires" and opines that "it's the peripheral characters that give the film its comic momentum."
In contrast, Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, gave this film two stars, calling it "an uninspired recycling of the Tootsie formula. Though the film "scores some good points against the male-dominated hierarchy of the business world," Ebert is ultimately unconvinced by the Cutty character.