Sunday, August 21, 2011

Modern Girls (Jerry Kramer, 1986)

Whether you decide to pierce, puncture or perforate it, there comes a time in everyone's life when you must penetrate the night, and when that time does come, don't forget to poke it really hard (a subtle prick will not suffice). You better hurry, though, because the all-enveloping blackness waits for no one. The unbearable harshness of the light of day not only saps the bulk of your strength, it exposes your physical flaws in a more pronounced manner. Let me put it another way, sunshine is fine and dandy for daises and daffodils, but the human animal needs darkness to survive. Procreation occurs mostly at night, and do you know where these procreation enthusiasts meet one another? I'll tell you where, in nightclubs. There's a reason there are no such thing as "dayclubs." No self-respecting man or woman would ever copulate will someone they met during the day. And let me ask you this, when was the last time you saw a movie that featured a montage that centred around a person getting dressed in the morning? The reason you can't think of one is because there's never been one. They put on their clothes, they go wherever it is those people go every morning, the end. On the other hand, the night is tailor made for wardrobe-based montages, and does Modern Girls ever have a doozy. Set to the apt strains of "Girls Night Out" by Toni Basil, this particular montage was so overpowering, so chromatically persuasive, that I felt the need to watch it with a smallish support group of like-minded individuals (the vibrant production design alone was enough to cause me to reach for my inhaler). Unfortunately, it's hard to find upright organisms who think like me on such short notice. And, to be honest, I don't think there's anyone in the metropolitan area whose brain is up to my level of deluded cleverness.

All alone, culturally alienated, and mildly intimidated, was I able to handle to the sheer amount of turquoise and pink that is thrown at me in Modern Girls? Of course I was. What do you think I am, some kind of pantie-flavoured lightweight? You're talking to someone who has seen Valet Girls six times. If anything, I felt myself growing stronger as the film progressed. Feeding off its gaudy nectar like some sort of scrunchie-stroking fiend, every witless flight of fancy, every nonsensical decision the characters make in this flick was like being repeatedly splashed with a revitalizing tonic.

Getting back to my original point, the dichotomy between the night and day dictum is sufficiently satirized the moment the words "Modern Girls" appear on the scree at the beginning of the film. And it's a good thing, as I was starting to get on my nerves. Here you are, yakking up a storm about the differences between night and day, all the while Cynthia Gibb's calve-hugging, thigh-beautifying pink leggings are being woefully neglected. At any rate, inside the words "Modern Girls" lies a neon-filled cityscape where fun is contagious and anything is possible. Outside the words is, well, a brightly lit netherworld full of tedium and drudgery.

Introduced just as their ennui was about to get the best of them, three young women living in Los Angeles are shown at their places of employment. The command "keep dialing" can be heard emanating from her supervisor as we meet Margo (Daphne Zuniga), a brunette telemarketer, who is having trouble staying awake. And who can blame her? Barking trite-sounding nonsense into a plain-looking telephone all day will test the resolve of even the most resilient of modern girls. Next up, we run into Kelly (Virginia Madsen), a blonde pet shop girl, and, judging by the plethora of guys milling around outside the store, she has many suitors. The final piece of this girlish puzzle is put into place when we encounter CeCe (Cynthia Gibb), a bubbly department store cosmetics salesgirl. Well, at least she was a bubbly cosmetics salesgirl. Fired after making an elderly woman look like a new wave hooker, and for distressing one too many garments, CeCe, a fashionable redhead, finds herself without a job when her friends come to pick her up.

Even though the jacket CeCe is wearing when she leaves the department store is clearly red (dig the frayed sleeves, girlfriend), you'll notice that the majority clothes the girls were wearing while at work were frightfully bland (lots of white and grey). Once darkness falls, the girls are totally unencumbered by the soul-suffocating rules imposed on them by the daytime world, and are free to express themselves in a more laid-back manner. Of course, before she can proceed to get in touch with her inner trendoid, CeCe needs to catch some z's.

Fully refreshed and ready to take on the L.A. club scene, CeCe tries on a series of fashion forward ensembles. Standing before her mirror, CeCe examines each outfit carefully before deciding whether to keep or discard the article of clothing currently being scrutinized. Oh, and, by the way, if you're wondering why I'm only focusing on CeCe? It's simple, the other girls don't matter. Radiating a weird, almost therapeutic brand of neon light, Cynthia Gibb's CeCe had a soothing quality about her that the other gals seemed to lack.

However, if you must know what the other two were up to while the fabulous CeCe was trying on clothes, Margo's going through nightclub flyers and making calls, and Kelly is, well, she's missing in action. This complicates matters for CeCe and Margo because Kelly took the car. How are they supposed to go clubbing without a car? The girls are obviously not fans of public transit. Thankfully, the answer to their car-less prayers rolls up in a convertible. Knocking on their door while Margo's taking a bath and CeCe was painting her toenails in a pink slip, Clifford (Clayton Rohner) is there to pick up Kelly (she apparently agreed to go on a date with him). A nice guy in a grey sweater, Clifford waits on their zebra print couch (complete with leopard print cushions) while the girls get ready. The girls hatch a plan to bring Clifford to Kelly (they have a general idea where she is), which in turn, will allow CeCe and Margo to arrive in style (Cliff is driving a borrowed Cadillac with a leopard print interior).

What initially endeared me to CeCe was not her ebullient attitude or kooky fashion sense, but the fact that she insisted on calling Clifford "Cliffy," even though he told her that he prefers to be called "Cliff." Guys can get a tad squirrelly when you try to stick a 'y' at the end of their names. How do I know this? Well, let's just say, a couple of Finnish girls I knew growing up taught me an important lesson about the subtle art of handle alteration. If a Finnish girl wants to add a 'y' to the end of your name, let them. But if a non-Finnish girl tries to do the same, nip that shit in the fucking bud as soon as possible. Anyway, Clifford does make a feeble attempt to nip it, but CeCe, who's clearly not Finnish, isn't your average bud.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, CeCe emerges wearing a turquoise skirt, pink tights (the way they complemented her skirt was simply divine), lacy black armwear, peach-coloured eye makeup, black heels, and carrying the world's strangest boa (tattered chunks of mulit-coloured fabric that looked like they were sewn together on a dare), while Margo is sporting a black dress covered in zippers, black pantyhose (calm down, perverts), black heels, and a pair of royal blue opera gloves (I'm all for wearing black, but even I thought the gloves added a much needed splash of colour to her get-up).

It's time to hit the clubs! The first club is called Powertools, and just as they're about to go in, CeCe and Margo lay down some of their clubland ground rules: Never pay for parking; never carry cash; never pay for drinks; and, most importantly, never wait in line. When they're finished educating Cliffy, they bypass the line and entre the club. The grey sweater-wearing scamp is immediately crestfallen when he finds out that Kelly, who is wearing a pink frilly number with lacy white pantyhose, has totally forgotten about their date (she didn't even remember his name). To make matters worse, Kelly is kissing a guy/asshole named Brad (Stephen Shellen), the club's DJ.

Call me pessimistic, but I don't think Virginia Madsen will be able to win back the audience after the way she treated Cliffy. Hell, she didn't even defend CeCe and Margo when Brad had the nerve to call them dorks (besmirch Margo all you want, but no one talks about CeCe that way). Clutching a copy of "Love" by The Cult while looking sad and mopey is a good start, but she'll need to do more than hold a beloved LP in her hands if she expects me, I mean, the audience, to like her again.

Feeling guilty over the fact that they used Cliffy, CeCe and Margo buy him a drink (the sign above the bar reads "lubrication"). Well, John Dye actually pays for the drinks, but it's the thought that counts. The egregious amount of cuteness on display as CeCe and Cliffy dance to "The Girl Pulled A Dog" by the Female Body Inspectors was off the charts in terms of allowable cuteness. Sadly, this cuteness is interrupted when Bruno X (Clayton Rohner) entres the club with much fanfare. Wait a minute, Bruno who?!? Oh my god, what planet are you from? It's Bruno X! He's only the biggest thing to hit MTV since Fad Gadget.

It's at this point in the film when Modern Girls truly finds its voice. Floundering without a purpose, CeCe's determination to meet Bruno X is what drives the plot of the movie. As you would expect, Bruno X falls in love with CeCe almost instantly (he may look like a pratt, think Billy Idol crossed with Peter Murphy with a hint of Gowan - "you're a strange animal," but he knows an angel when he sees one). I like to think that Bruno X fell under CeCe's chirpy spell the second he heard the "life in your new world turning round and round" part of Icehouse's "No Promises." I didn't, however, like the way Bruno X insisted on calling CeCe "Cecilia" (totally uncool, man, her name's CeCe!). Anyway, CeCe and Bruno X become separated from one another while the club is being raided by police (fire code violation).

The rest of the film centres around CeCe trying to locate Bruno X, the man she is "totally in like with." Employing the help of Margo and Cliffy (Kelly has disappeared again), CeCe's search leads them to The Gloom Room (an authentic-looking L.A. goth club filled with authentic-looking L.A. goths), a music video shoot where Cliffy acquires a new coat (oh, and keep an eye on one of the dancers in the music video, they're wearing pointy boots that are affixed with buckles - screw the other dancers, their boots, while pointy, are buckle-less), rescue a drug-addled Kelly from a bunch of L.A. rednecks (keep your other eye out for an equally drug-addled Pamela Springsteen in this scene), Melrose Avenue (love the neon signs), Club Voodoo (a tropical themed nightclub), and Mulholland Fountain.

Rarely do I get the opportunity to see my values represented on-screen in such a succinct manner. But there were, shimmering in the night sky like an underappreciated pair of iridescent fingerless gloves. And rarely do I get the chance to witness a piece of film acting this captivating, this bouncy, this mettlesome, this...well, you get the get the idea. Sure, the duel performance by Clayton Rohner as Cliffy and Bruno X was impressive and junk, but nothing comes close to topping Cynthia Gibb's stunning portrayal as the single-minded CeCe, the world's most vivacious fashion victim. I liked how Cynthia never seemed to shy away from character's vacuous temperament. A lesser actress would try to underplay CeCe's flaws, but Cynthia embraces the fact her character is cooler than everyone else. In addition, she's the only one who seems to be fully aware that she's living in the '80s, which is a testament to Cynthia Gibb's steadfast commitment to the role.

A feminist masterwork masquerading as a meaningless slab of fashion-friendly mishegas, the script by Laurie Craig, based on a story by Anita Rosenberg (Assault of the Killer Bimbos), pulls no punches when it comes mocking the whole knight in shining armor myth that permeates the majority of romantic comedies. In every other movie, a single gal needs the stability of a man in order to feel complete. However, in the Modern Girls universe, that stability is shirked with extreme prejudice. Don't be fooled by the neon lights, the food fights, and the pink tights, this film has bite. It's frothy and fun, but it also contains an important lesson about loyalty and friendship.

In a veiled attempt to stave off what is bound to be a profound case of Post-Modern Girls sluggishness, here are my favourite songs from the M.G. soundtrack: "Girls Night Out," Tony Basil; "Everywhere I Go," The Call; "But Not Tonight," Depeche Mode; "No Promises," Icehouse; and "Some Candy Talking," Jesus and Mary Chain.



  1. I've been reading your site for a while (love your taste in movies)! I watched (and enjoyed) this one a few weeks ago and was wondering when you'd write about it. Nice write-up! Btw, have you seen Get Crazy?

  2. Thanks for reading, Abbycomix.

    Have I seen Get Crazy? Yes.

  3. Hey, Yums.
    Did you feel the earthquake?

    And sorry about Jack Layton.

    Speaking of people who died (cue the Jim Carroll song), I was surprised to hear about John Dye. And Frank Tovey is dead, too.

    On a happier note, I'm looking up flights to Nunavut. It's now on my bucket list. :D

  4. I didn't feel shit. :(

    Arctic plane crashes, Jack Layton, my washing machine, what's going on around here?!? ;)

    Yeah, John Dye wasn't even 50. Never watched Touched By an Angel, but I always admired the fact that he kept his 80s style hair well into the 90s.

    Good luck during the storm that's headed your way, I hear it's a nasty one.

  5. Whoops! I must have missed your Get Crazy post. Very cool. Luckily, a theater screened it in NY recently (which was the 1st time I'd seen it). I would buy it in a second if they ever release the DVD!

  6. Somehow, we in the Palmetto State escaped Irene's watery wrath. Inland, we didn't even get any rain.

    Your washing machine died? RIP, Yum-Yum's washing machine.

    When are adults going to be back on Jeopardy!?

  7. @Abbycomix: Get Crazy on the big screen?!? Awesome. It sure beats the lame way I watched it (youtube).

    @Karim Amir: Yeah, the news never seems to mention SC.

    It lived a long and fruitful life.

    Totally! The teens are, like, so freakin' shrill. ;)

  8. One of my absolute favorite films gets an amazing review! I'll have to alert my good friend about it who runs the Modern Girls Movie website.

  9. I love all of your posts, but this one is super special! I'm glad that someone has the same adoration for the great Cynthia Gibb as CeCe as I have for so many years! It's also good to know that someone has put in as many hours of their life watching "Valet Girls" as I have.

  10. @Cinema De Meep: It was actually your inclusion of Modern Girls in your sort of recent entry, "10 Movies About... A Night On The Town," that caused me to stop dilly-dallying, and finally get around to watching this masterpiece.

    @LitaMalibu: Thanks.

    CeCe for president! (President of what exactly? I have no idea, but she should be ruling over something.)

  11. Found this through Depeche...a most triumphant review!

  12. Join the Modern Girls Facebook Page - the fans who created post fun tidbits and occasionally I add my personal pix and stories. After all, I created this film - it was the story of my life at that time - even though they didn't let me direct it!