There are plenty of lousy movies from the Reagan era that hold up well enough today through those rose-colored glasses of sweet nostalgia, but "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is not one of them. The movie was, and still is, a dog. It's a total wannabe in the realm of 80s teen flicks.
The 1985 film borrows its name from the Cyndi Lauper megahit from the year before, although one quickly realizes that this was some sort of last-minute arrangement - the movie is a generic kids-wanna-dance flick that has a cheap cover version of Lauper's tune (anonymously performed by Deborah Galli) clumsily pasted in throughout, often seemingly at random. The proceedings are more inspired by "Footloose," "Flashdance," and the "Grease" movies, and the pointless use of the Lauper hit smacks of a crummy cash grab. (Worse: the film's advertising hyped it as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun: The Movie," as if presenting an adaptation of the song and/or video.)
Sarah Jessica Parker, fresh off "Square Pegs" and "Footloose," stars as Janey, a teenage Army brat who's thrilled when her family relocates to Chicago, the home of her favorite TV show: a "Dance Fever"-by-way-of-"American Bandstand" spectacle called "Dance TV." It's her dream of becoming a regular dancer on the series, so how convenient that on the first show she watches in her new hometown, they announce auditions for new dancers!
Ah, but her military-minded dad (Ed Lauter) doesn't want like the idea. What's a girl to do? Sneak out with the help of new friend/neighborhood "rebel" girl Lynne (Helen Hunt, who was 21 at the time but looks 30; any attempts to pass her off as a teen are more laughable than any punchlines on display), of course. At the auditions, they meet hunky Jeff (Lee Montgomery) and his best friend Drew (Jonathan Silverman), a huckster (he sells term papers and bootleg Dance TV t-shirts) with a penchant for sexual assault. (The scene where he grabs a girl's unsuspecting breasts is not nearly as zany-cute as the movie thinks it is.) Janey and Jeff both make it through the first round and get paired together for the finals - which rankles spoiled richie Natalie (Holly Gagnier), who sets out to sabotage Janey's plans. Ooooh, that Natalie!
The next week is spent with Janey and Jeff's stunt doubles practicing all their complicated dance moves, all shot from a nice, long distance so we'll never notice that they're not Janey and Jeff. There's some nonsense about Janey having to sneak out of choir practice, or out of her room after she's been grounded, or back into her home when her stunt double is finished practicing. There's a lot of sneaking going on, which I suppose could be translated as part of a girl's irresistible urge to have fun.
Other examples of girls just wanting to have fun: Janey and Jeff go to a party; class clown Lynne sings "The Banana Boat Song" instead of the intended hymn during choir; Janey and Lynne walk down escalators the wrong way at the mall; Lynne changes her Catholic school uniform into what the producers probably thought punks liked to wear (a plaid vest and leather pants); a nun performs a gymnastics routine while still wearing her habit; Lynne wears a hat with a giant grasshopper on it. Oh, you girls!
There's also a scene where Janey, Lynne, and Jeff's obnoxious little sister Maggie (Shannen Doherty!) print up a bunch of fake invites to Natalie's debutante ball and pass them out (via musical montage, the horror) to everyone in town. This sets up the scene where the ball is crashed by a gang of biker punks who drive through the windows, step on the food, and convince the band to start singing some sort of almost-rock song, instead of those square oldies they were playing. None of this makes a lick of sense. Where are the other people that got the phony invites? If they weren't meant to show up, why did the movie bother introducing them in the first place? And why, if the punks had tickets, did they need to crash through the window like they were storming the castle? This movie hurts my head.
Of course, we can't expect things like logic and cohesion from a movie that wants to end with a dance-off (a dance-off!!!) on live television, complete with Janey's father arriving at the last minute to suddenly realize how much his daughter loves to dance.
The screenplay, by Amy Spies (who would later work on "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place"), reads like an adult's approximation of what kids might be into at the time. Dialogue strains itself trying to work in phrases like "New Wave" and "Walkman" and "Cabbage Patch Kids," and it's like watching a parent desperate to connect with a teenager. "So, I hear the Huey Lewis Band has a new record. Joanie's mom says it sounds pretty 'gnarly'!"
(To be fair, there is one good joke in the movie - a throwaway comment about how there were two hit singles in 1984 both titled "Jump" - but by the time the movie was released, the comment was already stale. 23 years later, it's every bit as dated as the references to Velcro and Tab soda.)
The generic direction from Alan Metter follows two rules: point the camera at whoever's talking, and if the leads are dancing, scoot the camera back so far back so nobody will ever tell that's a stand-in. "Girls" is beyond visually unappealing; it's a downright ugly film. Set-ups are bland and almost sitcommy, a style that would serve Metter well on later works such as "Police Academy 7" and a series of direct-to-video Olsen Twins pictures. (And yet, strangely, Metter would follow "Girls" with "Back to School," a bona fine 80s comedy classic. Go figure.)
Disproving my initial argument, there are a handful of fans still clinging to this movie; a quick search of the internet reveals some of them have even created tribute web sites. But I suppose for love for a movie this sloppy, this limp, this unfunny to survive, those nostalgia goggles would have to be remarkably thick. "Girls" has always been and will always be a terrible movie, a quickly forgettable entry in the 80s teen movie genre.
Anchor Bay has re-released their DVD of "Girls," originally released in 2001 and then packaged in a box set ("Living in the 80s!") in 2003. This version features new artwork on the box - including a horrid Photoshop job that clumsily places Parker's face on a head too small for it - but the same 2001 art on the disc itself, revealing this to be not an upgrade but simply a reissue.
Video & Audio
There's plenty of grain to be found in this transfer, but the color levels come off very nicely, especially in the crisp daytime shots - a sign that most of the flaws on the disc are a problem with the source material itself. While not impressive, the low budget film has likely never looked better. The one-sided disc offers both the film in both its original widescreen (1.85:1, with anamorphic enhancement) and pan-and-scan format.
There's not much difference between the original stereo soundtrack and the Dolby 5.1 remix. Dialogue remains up front, clear but unimpressive, while the spotlight is given to the music, which comes through very nicely on both tracks. (The surround mix is, naturally, slightly richer, although it's wisely restrained in order to maintain that pure 80s sound.) No subtitles are offered, although the disc is closed captioned.
The film's obnoxious trailer (presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) offers a fair warning to potential moviegoers, revealing bad jokes and worse music.
If you like the film, you probably already own the original release and have no need for this re-release. Everyone else will do fine to steer clear altogether. Either way, this reissue doesn't offer much of anything. Skip It.