Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Image // PG // $17.97 // April 3, 2012
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted April 8, 2012
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Unexceptional but harmless and even charmingly na´ve, Girls Just Want to Have a Fun (1985) is a quasi-dance musical and '80s teen pic suggested by the Cyndi Lauper song and notable for its young cast of future stars, namely 19-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker, 20-year-old Helen Hunt, and 13-year-year-old Shannen Doherty. All three infuse this innocuous New World release with bubbly, infectious energy, despite plot elements lifted from a dozen other pictures.

Unfortunately, Girls Just Want to Have Fun is saddled with the worst video transfer for a Blu-ray I've seen so far on a licensed, non-public domain release. Technically it may be high-def and the audio is pretty good, but the image is barely par with standard-def DVD. There's no reason this should look so terrible.

Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) is an army brat, whose father (Ed Lauter, a welcome presence) is an overly protective taskmaster. The family has just moved to Chicago, and Janey immediately hits it off with new classmate Lynne (Helen Hunt), who shares Janey's passion for modern dance as well as the nationally syndicated Dance TV (usually called DTV in the film).

They decide to audition for a spot on the show, but surreptitiously as Janey's father is completely opposed to the idea. They face fierce competition from spoiled rich girl Natalie (Holly Gagnier), who's willing to lie and cheat her way to the top. She sabotages Lynne's tryout with a payoff to Lynne's dance partner; he takes a dive in the middle of their routine. But Janey is invited back, to an upcoming (and televised) finals competition.

Simultaneously, Janey falls for another dancer, the naturally-gifted Jeff (Lee Montgomery), but he's partnered off with Natalie. As he's from a working-class family who's father is employed at one of Natalie's father's (Morgan Woodward) companies, she puts the thumbscrews on Jeff by threatening his father's job.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun is very much part of a tradition dating back to (at least) the late 1930s, when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were staging lavish Busby Berkeley musicals at the local grange, and the '60s beach party musicals with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Iconography from those movies as well as other earlier-'80s films are omnipresent: the stern, stick-in-the-mud father who comes around when he finally sees his daughter perform; the spoiled rich girl who gets her comeuppance and then some in the final reel; the precocious kid sister (Shannen Doherty); the wise-cracking (and usually explicitly Jewish), enterprising best friend (Jonathan Silverman) of the good-looking WASP-ish hero.

In this age of The Hunger Games and Twilight, both the title and content of Girls Just Want to Have Fun harken back to a more innocent time (and my generation thought the '50s was innocent!), when schoolgirl obsessions with TV dance shows were about as complicated as life got.

You'd think Parker and Hunt would be better-suited to the other's role, but Parker's fine as the more sheltered, less experienced friend as is Hunt as the bubbly, more experienced one willing to take chances and break a few rules to help her new best pal. Doherty's part, a distant cousin of Mackenzie Phillips's in American Graffiti, is similarly effective.

As with other '80s teen pictures, such as the recent Blu-ray of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), seen today Girls Just Want to Have Fun is as much a fascinating time capsule of the era's fashions, music, and malls, as movies from the '50s were when I was young.

Video & Audio

Filmed for 1.85:1 projection and presented here in 1.78:1 format, Girls Just Want to Have Fun get a 1080i transfer that's among the worst I've seen outside of the PD market. (This is an Image release of a Lakeshore International title.) The image is soft with almost no detail, color and contrast are blah and horizontal lines like combing are in evidence throughout. I've seen some reviews blaming all this mostly on the fact that this was a low-budget movie ($6.5 million, actually not that low in 1985), but that has nothing to do with it. It was shot in 35mm, just like nearly all feature films of this era and there's no reason it shouldn't be as bright and sharp as, say, any other 1.85:1 release from 1985. The region A disc is sloppily packaged as well. Inexplicably, the program content here is copyrighted 1996 (?) and Dolby Digital Mono is listed for the audio, even though it's clearly PCM stereo. (The film itself was originally released in Dolby Stereo.) While the audio really only comes alive during the dance numbers, here it delivers; if only the picture measured up. The only Extra Feature is a trailer, and it's full frame and in standard-def.

Parting Thoughts

Girls Just Want to Have Fun is an innocuous, reasonably enjoyable throwback to an earlier era, but the transfer is so inexcusably poor I must advise interested parties to Skip It.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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