I am beginning to realize that the 1980's is a veritable treasure trove for excellent cult comedy, whether it be Splash, or a film I gave a lot of love to awhile back Earth Girls Are Easy. It seems that in order for these films to work they necessarily need a decidedly absurdist plot mixed with the presence of stars, who were still coming into their own. In the case of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, viewers are provided with this exact cocktail. The absurdist plot coming in a town seemingly filled with more expert dancers than Footloose and a ton of musicals combined, as well as serving the excellent combination of then, still up and coming actresses Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty. I am glad that this film made it into the inclusion for this month of women in film, because it is decidedly lesser known, and focuses on women, in this case teenage girls, in a way that has yet to make an appearance, coming into their own, decidedly preoccupied with boys and looks and especially innocent to the woes of the world. Usually, I would be quite dismissive of this methodology, but director Alan Metter handles the script with such care and humor as to remind viewers that it is not a film about condemnation or satire, but, instead; about the woes and silly pains of growing up and experiencing the seeming absurdity of one's teenage years, where parents are assumedly overly authoritative and everyone fits beautifully into their respective cliques. Girls Just Want to Have Fun does not exist to deconstruct the heteronormativity, or class divides of this particularly conservative era in The United States. The film never takes itself seriously, and there is no reason it should, instead between its theatricality, surprising degree of metacinematic qualities and an awesome up on your feet soundtrack, one cannot help but accept the frilly, fluff that is this film, it is by no means culturally profound or socially critical, instead, it is escapist cinema fully realized, with such a predictability that to hate it is to hate being happy.
Girls Just Want to Have fun primarily focuses on the experiences of Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) a new girl to Chicago, who is used to traveling the world, considering that her father is an officer in the Army. Her newest arrival at a private Catholic school makes her an instant outsider and a point of mocking for classmates who see her love for dance as silly and immature. However, she does make friends with the witty and wily Lynne Stone (Helen Hunt) who takes no time helping Janey break out of her shell, when they bond over a shared love for the local dance show "Dance TV," in fact, it is during their first time watching the show together that they are informed of the show seeking new dancers from the Chicago area, a task they find themselves both up for attempting. At the same time we are introduced to the other-side-of-the-tracks tough guy Jeff Malene (Lee Montgomery) who is also surprisingly good at dancing, leading to his awkward trickster friend Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) pushing for his involvement with the competition. Furthermore, another girl, the rich and conniving Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier) is convinced she can enter the competition and win solely off of her father's influence and money. The first encounter of the entire group comes during the initial tryouts where Janey and Jeff find success, while Lynne is knocked out of competition, due to the trickery of Natalie. This, of course, leads to Janey and Jeff spending more time together, much to the concern of Janey's parents whose conservative upbringing is being thrown out the window, not to mention Natalie's continual extension of monetary power to attempt to assure victory. However, in the end the two are able to dance together and blow the competition away, while Janey is also able to show her parents the true value her dancing brings to her life, particularly her father who sees first hand the happiness that is involved. Janey and Jeff are now a couple, and will appear as dancers on Dance TV, even Lynne finds success being an announcer within the show due to some fortunate timing. However, that is essentially the plot of the film, aside from some dance number here and there, it is pretty simple, enjoyable and straightforward.
So it is hard for me to glean any intense critical views from an admittedly simple and straightforward film, however, it was made in the middle of the 1980's, therefore, considering the highly conservative nature of America at the time, one could certainly read Girls Just Want to Have Fun as a direct confrontation to those ideologies, particularly a slight against the notion that white males can control the outcome of events with their money and influence. This most obviously manifests itself in the party scene where a decadent "coming out" party, not in the contemporary civil rights sense, but in the showing off to the elite class of a young woman, is destroyed by a bunch of punk rockers, whose anti-establishment mentality seems to catch aflame on the cinematic stylings of the film, whether it be the use of twins to break the cinematic assumptions of symmetry, or the decidedly experimental nature of the dance sequences. Surprisingly, one expects Jeff's dad to be an alcoholic, working class stiff who would spout of slurs about his son's desires to dance, however, he proves to be entirely supportive of his son's career choices, even if they threaten his own job security. The film, of course, makes a larger statement about women's mobility in this era, both through Janey and Lynne whose desire to be nothing more than dancers, flies directly in opposition to the hyper-conservative ideals of their nuns, and, subsequently, the era of America in which the film was released. Sure it is acceptable for young women to be gymnasts or choir girls, but the assumed vices associated with dancing, make certain that the film is blatantly riding on the waves of the success of Footloose a year earlier. However, where that film takes religion as its blatant authority figure of oppression and suppression, Girls Just Want to Have Fun draws out a larger map of authoritative obstacles that bar women from entering into the world of dance, some tangible, while others are theoretical. Fortunately, for the generation watching this film and growing up in that era, they quickly rejected such absurdist notions and pushed towards liberal notions of gender, mobility and performance, perhaps helping to explain the seemingly simplistic desires of the film, as I look back on it with nearly thirty years of detachment.
Key Scene: The final dance competition is quite fun, the music is hip and the moves are quite impressive, and it is a nice payoff to follow up the relatively slow portions leading up to the scene.
This is a film that I took a liking to, but am fully aware is not for everyone, as such, it is worth renting first before purchasing.