Out of town on business, Julie (Stockard Channing) learns that the CEO of her company plans to meet her for lunch, an encounter she's sure means her imminent demise. Instead, she's promoted, replacing the head of the company as he moves on to do other things.
Alone at the hotel, she runs into her assistant, Paula (Julia Stiles), who was inexcusably late that afternoon and summarily fired. Julie apologizes for overreacting, and the two form a tenuous relationship, celebrating Julie's promotion together.
Meanwhile, headhunter Nick (Frederick Weller), whom Julie summoned because she thought she'd need him, is likewise stranded at the hotel, but Paula swiftly puts a halt to his joining their party, confiding that he had raped her best friend in college. Julie is outraged and vows to do something about it, but she's unprepared for Paula's actions.
Channing and Stiles share an appropriately uneasy chemistry together as two women in different stages of their lives who still somehow analyze each other quite accurately. Channing's steely gaze captures the essence of a woman who's worked hard to get where she is, but now that she's there, wonders if it's all been worth it. Stiles is a spitfire, giving a powerful, passionate performance as a writer who manipulates others for material for her stories.
A sort of "In the Company of Men" for the, ahem, gentler sex, "The Business of Strangers" explores how the defenses erected by women working in male-dominated fields can ultimately be destructive. Starring Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Mary Testa, Jack Hallett and Marcus Giamatti. Directed and written by Patrick Stettner. Produced by Susan A. Stover and Robert H. Nathan. An IFC release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 84 min