Monday, January 4, 2010

Who's That Girl (James Foley, 1987)

Pairing a buttoned-down square with an effervescent free spirit via contrived circumstances is nothing new–in fact, the sheer number of these films is a tad, oh, let's say, astronomical. However, if you add a buckle-booted pop singer and a rare Patagonian cougar to the well-worn mix, you'll probably end up with an instant classic. A nonsensical mishmash masquerading as a mismatched romance, Who's That Girl is a fanciful romp through the abrasive urban landscape that is mid-80s New York City. The punks and freaks that populated the city during the new wave era (1977-1985) have been mostly replaced by an indistinct throng of corporate slugs whose primary concern is earning (or stealing) enough money to preserve their increasingly affluent lifestyles. One of these so-called "slugs," though, is about to get their spiritual trajectory thrown seriously off course by an impulsive relic from the very era this flavourless piece of yuppie scum had a hand in destroying. Proving that even the stodgiest souls can be invigorated by an adorable dame in fishnet pantyhose, the James Foley directed lark tackles the unsuitable pairing genre with an aggressively simple aplomb. Quickly throw the unfit couple together, and sit back and watch the forced infatuation unfold. Oh, there's reason the unlikely twosome end up sharing the same airspace, but when the kooky chemistry inevitably starts to fester, you'll have long forgotten what their initial hookup was all about.

In order to maintain the appearance of an actual movie, the script, by Andrew Smith and Winnipeg's own Ken Finkleman (The Newsroom), will casually remind audience as to what is happening. Which, as far as I could tell, has something to do with a stuffy lawyer, Louden Trott (Griffin Dunne), being told to pickup an endangered mountain lion from a shipping dock, as well as drive a recently released convict named Nikki Finn (Madonna) to the bus station. With his future father-in-law, Simon Worthington (a shifty tycoon played by John McMartin), counting on him to successfully complete these tasks, the soon-to-be-married attorney finds them both to be fraught with unforeseen complications.

Actually, the cougar pickup goes as smoothly as the transportation of a large feline in a Rolls-Royce can go. It's the transportation of the unruly Nikki that proves to be the most troublesome for the clumsy Louden. I suppose the bungled mess that is the Nikki rendezvous is intended to show the layered dichotomy that exists between untamed animals and spunky chicks with thick yet unspecific accents. But then again, I'm in no position to be supposing that sort of shit. Anyway, you can't control either, and you'd be a fool to try.

Of course, that wonky advice is completely ignored, as Louden dives headfirst into the convoluted morass that is Nikki Finn's post-prison life. And, in a mildly deranged way, you can't really blame him for doing so.

The amount humiliation and mortal danger he endures while in contact with Miss Finn might have been off the charts, but the restoration of his soul thanks to the impulsive force of nature that is this divine creature more than makes up for any degradation he may have suffered along the way.

The most disturbing aspect about Who's That Girl was the prospect of Madonna spending the best part of the 1980s in prison. For one thing, the idea of her not being able to see A Flock of Seagulls live in concert during their prime fills my heart, and a couple of other organs I'd rather not mention in such a semi-public forum, with a giant dollop of overcooked sadness.

Nevertheless, once I got past this entirely made-up issue, I was able to enjoy performance for what was: an absolute delight. Sure, it took some time for me to properly savour her work – I found her unique vocal inflection to be slightly grating at first. But that all changed when she stopped by the record store to boost some cassette tapes. (Bert Rosario, the guy who played the perverted gardener in The Beach Girls, ends up taking the rap).

To be even more specific, the act of Madonna yelling "tricks" while in the mall parking lot was the exact moment I fell head over heels for the street smart Nikki Finn. Okay, the camera panning down, as Griffin Dunne sizes up her funky wardrobe, to reveal a wondrous short skirt (with the price tags stills attached) and an appropriately holey pair of fishnet pantyhose (much darker and robust than the pair worn by Susan Berman in Smithereens) had a hand in inducing some crush-like feelings. But it was Madonna's audacious playacting that won me over initially.

Let's just say, Madonna's acting prowess, deft physicality (she skips with a girlish glee), and chic ensembles (including a totally awesome pair of pointy-buckle boots) had a symbiotic relationship with one another.

In addition, her overall look was obviously a big influence on Big Tuna resident Perdita Durango (Isabella Rossellini's character in Wild at Heart). I mean, everything from her thick, unruly eyebrows to her fishnets practically screamed Nikki Finn.

For the millions of you out there who have a rational fetish for buckled shoes and boots, I'd have to say that Nikki's pointy footwear is probably best observed during the rooftop getaway. Here you will be able to see the buckles the way they were went to be seen: sparkling insouciantly while leaping between rundown buildings.

If you look closely, you'll notice that two out of four of Nikki's buckles are buckled. This unbuckled situation encourages the buckles that are not fastened to bounce around in an erratic manner. Which, as you would expect, causes a mild crease to form in the non-but-should-be-existent buckle-time continuum.

Playing a promoted version of his office drone character from After Hours, Griffin Dunne adds just the right amount of unbalanced kinetic energy to the proceedings as the increasingly put-upon lawyer. A sparingly used Robert Swan and Drew Pillsbury interject moments of police-based levity as a couple of cops tailing Nikki. And, surprisingly, it's James Dietz who earns two of the films most healthy laughs as a musclebound delivery man named Buck. His matter-of-fact delivery when answering the questions posed to him by Haviland Morris was spot-on. Oh, and the film's final third is extremely farcical; like the wedding cake, it's literally crammed with jokes.

Special thanks to the fine folks over at Adventures in Nerdliness and The Sexy Armpit for nudging me in the general direction of this wacky movie.


  1. Madonna's eyebrows were really large & in charge in that era, no?

    I have to admit I really loved this movie as a kid. Haven't seen it since then though.

  2. I remember liking this a lot too. I can't help but love those eyebrows. They could be hiding a lost civilization.

    You know, I am feeling the same way about Lady gaga as I did about Madonna oh-so many years ago. Maybe we can expect some fun movies from LG in the future? If we can keep her away from Sean Penn and Evita it might just be a blast ;-)

  3. like the good Rev. above, i saw this as a kid too and while i didn't love it i found myself watching it more than a couple of times when it seemed to be on HBO every other day.

    at the end of the movie though when Trott and Finn seemed destined to be together forever i remember thinking to myself "i'll give that relationship about 2 months. Tops."

    and boy do you like boots with buckles. if and when the time comes and this is on i'll be waiting for the roof scene to see what the fuss is about.

  4. I was a fan of this one as a teenager, as well. More so because I was a horned up teenager with a fixation on the sex Madonna was delivering us in ample, steady doses.

    That said, Nikki Finn is a fun chick. And the film is just brain candy, nothing more.

  5. Rev. Phantom: Her eyebrows really enhance her performance in this movie; they make her more expressive, more lifelike.

    Darius Whiteplume: A civilization where Peter Gallagher is no doubt the supreme leader.

    wiec?: Two months seems a tad generous. I give it two days.

    Even though the roof scene is shot in slow motion, I thought it could have been slower.

    Wings: I had a poster of True Blue-era Madonna in my grade 9 locker.


    A woman who sort of looked like Tura Satana from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! won on Jeopardy today.

  6. I thought she looked a little like Sara Ramirez from Grey's Anatomy. She also confused the Carolinas. :)

    I had that True Blue poster.

  7. Darius Whiteplume just posted a screengrab of the contestant in question on his tumblr, and I have to say, I'm not so sure about my initial assessment.

    Anyway, I had a feeling her Carolina mix up would not go unnoticed by you. :D

    I remember that True Blue poster being the perfect size for lockers.

  8. Actually, she looks like Tura does now, which is either high praise for the 70 year old Satana, or bad news for the Jeopardy winner ;-)

  9. Yeah, she looks like the modern day Tura, you know, the one you see signing autographs at those event thingies. Anyway, she lost today, so... yeah.

    Oh, and the fact that none of them knew who Pierre Trudeau was really burned my apple cider.

  10. Tried to explain to someone who the lead man was in AFTER HOURS today. I kept sating AFTER HOURS and she kept saying Nick Nolte! Forgot about this flick. Now I can get her mental imaging back on track. Thanks!