Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Thank God It's Friday is not a terrific piece of filmmaking, but it is a glorious memento from 1978, when Disco fever hit Hollywood in full force. The movement had already peaked but the clubs continued in LA for at least a couple more years, quickly melding into a predominantly gay thing -- The Village People are already represented on the soundtrack of this picture. As a phenomenon Disco was exaggerated, it was but true for a trendy demographic that was young, single and had the money for nightclubbing. I remember a UCLA film school party in early 1976 where the new 'thing' was to practice line dancing to pre-techno music. The department was beginning to be organized along social lines, as opposed to the loner-activist slant of the early 70s. Those kids were pretty progressive. Savant didn't get involved because he lacked the 1) clothes, 2) dancing ability, 3) general inclination.
In this film we're given a fantasy nightclub called The Zoo in the heart of LA's La Cienega Blvd.. It was really called Osco's, and it was a going concern at the time - very popular. Disco is presented more as a lifestyle or a state of mind than an activity. In this fantasy the entire single population (plus one married couple) beelines it to The Zoo in one giant mating ritual. Racy costumes, direct come-ons and one-night stands are practically assumed, and the atmosphere is all liquor, dancing and making out. If Thank God It's Friday has value, it's in seeing the crazy costumes and platform dancing shoes, while everyone in sight is looking to party like its 1979 ... in a promiscuous pre-Aids fantasyland.
A number of excited and anxious couples descend on the hottest Disco in town, The Zoo, where the Commodores are scheduled for a midnight concert, if their band instruments ever arrive. DeeJay Bobby Speed (Ray Vitte) sweats out that problem while fending off Nicole Simms (Donna Summer), a singer begging for a big break. Nice guy Ken (John Friedrich) arrives with his horny, nearsighted friend Carl (Paul Jabara), only to find that snagging a hot date isn't easy if you don't dance. Maddy (Robin Menken) just wants to score but her reluctant friend Jennifer (Debra Winger) doesn't feel comfortable being propositioned by Disco Lounge lizards. Dance-crazy Leatherman Marv Gomez (Nick Vennera) helps two under-aged girls Jeannie and Frannie (Terri Nunn & Valerie Landsberg) sneak in. Married couple Dave (Mark Lonow) and Sue (Andrea Howard) give the Disco scene a chance, but get separated -- Dave is fed a fistful of pills by the crazed Jackie (Marya "Mews" Small) and Sue falls into the clutches of the proprietor Tony Di Marco (Jeff Goldblum), a narcissistic make-out rake.
We of course know this is a fantasy when there are practically no unattractive women on the dance floor, with the exception of a cross-dressing man. The action all takes place as night as our attention bounces between comic situations involving a cross-section of over-heated couples. They're all stereotypes, more or less. A pair of gate crashing under-age dance fiends are desperate to win the dance contest; they're both cute girls who can't be 16 yet. There's the nerdy kid and his pleasant pal, who we know will end up connecting with an equally nice girl. Nick Vennera dances on the roofs of cars in the parking lot while Donna Summer does her darnedest to get a chance to sing.
Naturally, everybody's dreams come true. The uptight accountant gets drugged by a spacey nutcase, while his wife is almost seduced by Jeff Goldblum's predatory nightclub owner. The fresh faces belong to mostly unfamiliar young actors, and some of them are bright and talented. Debra Winger makes a particularly good impression.
The movie has a few gay characters wandering about and most are afforded some respect, although there are no gay featured characters. Alan Carr's shows tended to play up the gay angle more. The producer of Thank God It's Friday is Rob Cohen, a man with a career that's been all over the map. He's been in high-octane action films since the successful The Fast and the Furious back in 2001.
The Commodores perform in full disco regalia, but Donna Summer is the one to belt out the film's highlight with "Last Dance." She has a lot of appeal and for my money still sounds better than today's pop warblers. "Last Dance" was writen by Paul Jabara, an original Hair cast member who was a noted aids activist. He's credited with conceptualizing the AIDS red ribbon symbol, and died from the disease in 1992. He plays Carl in the film, the nearsighted girl-chaser who gets stuck in a stairwell (with Nanci L. Hammond) and is essentially never heard from again.
The only couple not given a fair shake by the script are Gus Sacci as an obnoxious garbage man who connects with a blind date, Hilary Beane's pleasant teacher. DeWayne Jessie has some okay comedy schtick trying to get the Commodore's musical instruments to The Zoo by midnight.
The movie is all comedy action, as there's really no major dancing on display. The funniest loony is Marya Small's grinning, pixie-ish Jackie. Jeff Goldblum is able to use the film as a nice steppingstone after Next Stop, Greenwich Village - he has a great moment watching his Porsche self-destruct in the parking lot. But it's odd to contemplate Robin Menken's excitement as she accompanies five guys back to their condo hot tub .... those scenes did happen all through the 70s out in the San Fernando Valley!
The movie begins with a badly animated Columbia torch lady, who does a Disco move. It probably got a laugh anyway. One of the first credits ID's the film as a Casablanca-Motown production, and all the music heard and artists seen are from one of those two labels .... in 1978 the corporate restructuring of entertainment had already begun!
Sony's DVD of Thank God It's Friday comes in a brightly colored enhanced transfer, sharp and snazzy. The track is listed as being in 5.1 . The disc has subtitles in several languages but introduces a new economy wrinkle into the cheapskate Sony DVD attitude: A plain-wrap one-card menu, with no programmed chapter stops (one can still step through them) and no extras whatsoever. It seems strange that impoverished independent DVD makers will jump through hoops to make pleasing and attractive presentations, while some of the majors are experimenting with anything that cuts a few corners to save a nickel.
With that said, the exterior packaging is very attractive, especially the cover illustration.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Thank God It's Friday rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 27, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson