“He’s a boy and he’s alive. What’s there to hate?”
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this movie, as awesome as it is, is not a romantic comedy. It’s an eighties dance movie with a ridiculously wonderful soundtrack, cast, and wardrobe, sure, but romcom? No way!
But I disagree! Unlike some of those other eighties dance movies (the “F” trilogy of Footloose, Flashdance and Fast Forward, plus Stayin’ Alive, Breakin’, and Dirty Dancing, and all the ones I can’t even remember to name) this one has a funny-romantic storyline at the center. Yes, it’s about the dancing. But it’s really about the love! And the humor!
The only other movie I’d say is even remotely close would be Hairspray, but that’s more about Tracy’s journey into self-acceptance and broader political issues than about her hook up with Link. I mean the original Hairspray, btw, not the way more romcomish 2007 based-on-the-musical version.
Where was I? Oh! I’ve loved Girls Just Want to Have Fun since, I don’t know. Whenever it started airing on HBO. See, my family had HBO back in the 80s, and my dad used to record movies off of movie stations (interesting legal tangent: “timeshifting”, or recording movies off of TV stations like HBO, caused a super famous copyright infringement case that still affects the way we share information today) and for some reason he thought my sister and I would like this one. He was definitely right! We had the double feature of Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Mannequin, which means we had two of the four Sex in the City women sitting on the same VHS. Eighties gold.
What’s It All About?
Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) just moved to Chicago, the home of Dance TV. She moves around a lot, because her dad’s in the military. He’s super strict. He paints war figurines for fun, and he doesn’t even play with them or anything, just displays them. He is not the dad you want to have, if you’re a teenager who just moved to the home of DanceTV!
Luckily, Janey pretty much instantly becomes friends with Lynne, who is a total quirky new wave teen (except not really because Helen Hunt was 23 or something) queen who also loves Dance TV! They don’t just love DanceTV, they love to dance!
DanceTV, or DTV if you’re cool enough to know the lingo, is a shot-locally-but-broadcast-nationally dance show, sort of like Soul Train or American Bandstand. This idea is so foreign to today’s type of television that it even seemed weird to me upon my most recent rewatch. Why would people go to Chicago to dance on national TV? Strange!
Anyway, DTV needs two new regulars, so they hold a So You Think You Can Dance style competition, twenty years early. Naturally, Lynne and Janey decide to go for it. It’s at the open tryouts that they meet the rest of our cadre of dancing superstars (okay, only two of them dance): Jeff, the bad boy, Drew, his dorky best friend, Maggie, Jeff’s pre-teen sister (SHANNEN DOHERTY), and Natalie, the super rich villain.
Janey’s style is all very gymnasticy and ballety, and Jeff’s style is all very rock and roll, so you know those two get paired up together, right? Right. World’s collide! The blue collar kid going to trade school soon and the Catholic school girl! But oh man, can they dance. They spend the whole movie practicing a routine for the final that they don’t even use. That is how good they are, my friends.
There is so much more to the plot of this movie, including a ridiculously awesome Coming Out Ball that is crashed by Eighties Freaks, but I refuse to give away too many details. It’s too perfect to ruin.
This isn’t about the movie itself so much as how well it’s held up for repeated viewings. I watch Girls Just Want to Have Fun at least twice a year, which is more than I can say for almost any other movie from that period. It works because it ends up being something of a pop culture time capsule while still remaining fun. My friend remarked to me, while we were watching the first, big tryout scene, that dance has change so much in the last twenty-five years. For example, there is absolutely no discernible hip hop influence in any of the dance moves that any of these characters do.
What else works? Pretty much everything. The cast is wonderful, and it’s a great opportunity to catch Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, and Shannen Doherty before they were SUPERFAMOUS. I kind of want them to have some kind of reunion at some point. There is a lot of superpower sitting in this cast. Throw in Jonathan Silverman, and you’ve struck gold. This is a fluffy movie, but they all play it with aplomb and are obviously having a good time with it.
Sarah Jessica Parker has good romantic chemistry with Lee Montgomery, who is The Guy You’ve Never Heard of, and it’s fun to watch them (and their doubles) dance together.
The story is filled with all sorts of crazy fun subplots, like the rivalry between Quirky Best Friend Lynne and Mean Girl Natalie that ends up becoming a Dance Rivalry between Janey and Natalie, which leads to ramifications for Jeff’s dad. There’s a random scene at a basketball-filled dance club, in which Drew playfully assaults a girl (you can not get away with this stuff now, unless you’re Judd Apatow). And there are a whole lotta dance montages, guys. A whole lotta.
Not So Much
Well. Uh. Hm.
Everyone is obviously way older than their characters, except for Jonathan Silverman and Shannen Doherty (who are older but not way older), which is normally one of my pet peeves. When I was eight it didn’t really matter, since everyone was older than I was, but I really think Modern Family and Skins have since spoiled me. Teenagers really can play teenagers!
Other than that, this movie is perfect.
Did I mention that this movie is perfect? That I rewatch it at least twice a year? That I know all the words, and all the dances? That I used to want to be Jeff Malene when I grew up? No? I love this movie! It’s got the best tropes of a romcom: quirky best friend, disapproving parent, hate-l0ve-test-love relationship, heroine who comes out of her shell, and a happy ending.
Freeze frame on the high five.