These eighties and nineties ladies knew how to take names and bring the laughter in these pleasing, palate cleansing, nostalgic comedies.
The Beautician and The Beast
James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton (License to Kill) dons a mustache as the faux Eastern European dictator to The Nanny’s Fran Drescher in this 1997 New York hairdresser turned government saving governess comedy. Cultural stereotypes and cliches from both sides of the pond pepper the typical, preposterous premise. Every romantic movie staple is here, too – from her shaving and feeding him to dressing like a princess for the big, all revealing final ball. Though pretty, the castle-esque Prague scenery is surprisingly small in scale, dressings, and stature. Deeper social commentaries and political debates don’t get enough attention and seem out of place amid some of forced, on the nose scenes between the leads. Obviously, Drescher is ultimately playing her Fran Fine character, and audiences will either love her nasal accent and tacky, over the top style or hate the canned humor. Having said all that, thankfully, there are some great wisecracks and charming circumstances to carry the viewer over the thin, rough spots. Dalton is so bad it’s good in the button up stuffiness that’s supposed to be poking fun at that stiff upper lip. The awkward misunderstandings and crisscrossed romance has a goofy, so annoying it’s charming endearment that remains kitschy for fans of the cast.
“What’s a cow flop, Mommy?” Bette Midler (Beaches) and Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie) double the fun as two sets of mismatched twins in this 1988 romp from director Jim Abrahams (The Naked Gun) with everything from Benny Goodman tunes and Bette Midler yodeling to a superb ensemble and eighties New York pastiche. Those of a certain age will pick up on the now tame innuendo and dated Dynasty references, but the Plaza Hotel time capsule setting adds to mistaken plots, twin twists, and country versus city situational farce. The split screen and dual effects are apparent today; however the shoulder pads, pink polka dot dresses, big hats, and tiaras do more for the multiple performances. Midler and Tomlin master four separate characterizations with zingers, press on nails, mint juleps, and sass to match. Despite the twofer predictability, under-cooked romances, and of the time flaws, multiple viewings are a must, because “Is a frog’s ass watertight?”
Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone) stars in writer and director John Waters’ (Hairspray) 1994 Susie Homemaker satire with based on a true story winks, angelic credits, idyllic kitchens, and golly gee family. A fly in the butter and its bloody splat, however, forebode the tightly wound sadistic contrasting the floral wallpaper, sunshine, and sewing baskets. Retro button up styles, corded telephones, and cassettes add eighties nostalgia to match the 9:37 a.m. foul mouthed split screen prank call to the local parking spot stealer. After baking cookies, it’s time to sing along in the station wagon and run over the school teacher before a trip to the car wash. Ruined bird watching leads to killer scissors and a filthy neighbor who doesn’t recycle amid pearl clutching over films being a bad influence and vintage porn. Eating sweets and swapping price tags layer the life’s little naughtiness parody when not stabbing a philander with a fire poker or bludgeoning an old lady with a burned rack of lamb. Bloody weapons, fingerprints, killer scrapbooks, witnesses – if you don’t rewind, there will be consequences! The murderous pursuits are filmed in full horror suspense, yet debates on whether the Mrs. needs a lawyer or an agent and selling t-shirts at the courthouse invoke a bemusing sensationalism. Her TV Movie rights are sold to Suzanne Summers, Patty Hearst is one of the jurors, and you must not wear white shoes after Labor Day. The dark wit, social exposé, and cheeky performances remain a relevant reflection of our humorously horrible celebrity obsessions.
Roseanne Barr’s ugly and unloved housewife Ruth reads romance novels and dreams of making herself as beautiful as enchanting author Meryl Streep (Doubt) in this witty 1989 revenge tale. When Streep’s perfectly pink Mary Fisher has an affair with Ruth’s sleazy husband Ed Begley, Jr. (St. Elsewhere), Ruth takes matters into her own hands – vowing to destroy his home, family, career, and freedom. Director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) provides a sarcastically quotable and multilayered story with suggestive dialogue and well balanced physical comedy matching the on form cast’s deadpan delivery. Whether she’s smooth talking marshmallows with her publisher or cursing out the kids, Mary means business. Streep has a good time as the straight woman socialite desperate to salvage her lux lifestyle amid degrading slapstick and turnabout fair play. Frumpy Ruth’s vengeance is not undeserved but she goes to humorous extremes with a charming ensemble along for the ride. Ruth grows confident, stylish, and likable – we delight in her understandable rage as the dismissed homemaker. Though largely a story for women, the humor here can be enjoyed by all audiences and grows better with age.
“Get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!” and “I’m busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!” quips and Dollyisms cement this 1992 Dolly Parton (9 to 5) sleeper. Sure, Dolly is largely just being her lovable self amid the mistaken circumstances and country bumpkin rags to riches feel good. However her evolution from dumb blonde dancer to fun airwaves advice doctor feels refreshingly genuine despite the commonplace fish out of water cum radio doctor swindle. James Woods (Casino) as a washed up journalist antagonist turned romantic foil leads the pleasant supporting cast, and a few good tangos with original music from Dolly accent the morality, heart, and truthfulness. Quiet bemusements and mature moments raise the story above formulaic romantic comedy expectations without resorting to the usual foul or saucy. There are, however, six separate montages and a dated job search sagging the middle – leaving the reasonable ninety minutes seeming short or poorly paced with a material missing feeling. Despite the enjoyable Chicago scenery, the on air confessions, break ups, make ups, and horns honking finale are seriously predictable, but thankfully, this remains a cute charmer with a little something to put a smile on anyone’s face.