Tag Archives: 1980s

Beauty in the Movies: 9 to 5

The transition from freelancing at home to commuting and working full-time has been a major contributing factor to my recent lack of blog posts. So it’s only appropriate that the return of ‘Beauty in the Movies’ features the charmingly adorable 1980s work place comedy 9 to 5.

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9 to 5 is a female buddy comedy in which three female co-workers accidentally kidnap their sexist, terrible boss and then, with him safely under house arrest, work together to make the office a much better place for everyone.

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There are an abundance of great scenes between the leading ladies (Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda) but one of the best moments comes after the three women have each had a hellish day at the office and decide to get high on a joint given to Lily Tomlin’s character by her son.

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“Is that one of those marijuana cigarettes?”

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While stoned, they each indulge in a workplace fantasy and live out a take-down of their evil superior. Lily Tomlin’s fantasy of herself as a Disney-like princess is by far the best, cartoon animals and all. Adorable.

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One of the sillier parts of the movie is the S+M like contraption the women rig up to keep their boss (Dabney Coleman) from escaping while they make changes back at the office.

Dabney Coleman 9 to 5

This film deals with some workplace issues that are still very relevant more than 30 years later. Workplace sexism is the most obvious obstacle the women face, but girl-on-girl crimes and workplace dissatisfaction lie beneath the sometimes slapstick plot of the film. Dolly Parton’s character, Doralee, is sexually harassed by her boss on a daily basis, but it is equally upsetting when the other women in the office assume she’s sleeping with him and then ostracize her for it.

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(Doesn’t sad Dolly just break your little heart?)

It seems the other women’s assumptions are due in part to Dolly’s clothing, makeup, and overall Parton-ish style (epic bosom included). Sadly, women judging other women based on their appearance and forming false opinions about their sex-lives, intellect, morality, etc., is something I’ve seen happen in every office I’ve ever worked in. It’s pretty sad to think those two ladies almost missed out on being friends with Doralee because of their own misconceptions.

9_to_5_princess

There are other aspects of office life that haven’t changed since 1980, example #1:

Copiers are devil-monsters sent from Hades to make your life miserable. I’m pretty sure the one at my office has an angry spirit living inside, it chews paper instead of printing it, always has a jam in a mystery tray, and has also burned me twice. I’m right there with Jane Fonda in this scene.

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As Dolly says, working 9 to 5 can sure drive you crazy if you let it, but there is really nothing better than some sassy, smart, supportive friends to help make your office a fun place to be.

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…and happy hour never hurts either — cheers!

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Beauty in the Movies: Desperately Seeking Susan

This week for Beauty in the Movies we’re heading back to the New York of 1985 for the cult classic Desperately Seeking Susan, where the streets are full of characters and you just can’t wear enough jewelry or sequins.

Desperately Seeking Susan brings us into the life of Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a young housewives living in Fort Lee New Jersey with her neglectful, hot-tub selling husband Gary (Mark Blum). Suffering from the boredom of everyday life, Roberta finds herself obsessing over a string of personal ads in which a man, Jim (Robert Joy), is “desperately seeking” his girlfriend Susan (Madonna) in cities all over the country. When an ad pops up requesting a meeting in Battery Park, Roberta just can’t resist driving over to Manhattan to see the couple in the flesh. After witnessing the musician and his lady reunite, Roberta follows the enigmatic woman to a thrift store where she watches her trade her trademark pyramid jacket for a pair of bedazzled boots. Wanting to understand and be more like Susan, Roberta buys the jacket and rushes home to New Jersey to make dinner for her clueless husband.

That night she finds a port authority locker key in the pocket of Susan’s jacket and decides to pen her own personal ad seeking Susan in order to return the key and unlock the mystery of the woman. Unfortunately for Roberta, Susan is also being sought by a creepy guy who knows only that she unwittingly stole a pair of priceless Egyptian earrings and that she wears a gold jacket with a pyramid on the back. Uh-oh, because now Roberta is wearing that same jacket and the creepy guy is following her instead. Meanwhile Susan’s guy Jim has sent his buddy Dez (Aidan Quinn) to Battery Park to see who put the ad in the paper for Susan and check to make sure she’s alright. While Susan gets hauled away by the cops for skipping out on cab fare, Roberta is pursued by the creepy guy and subsequently falls and hits her head only to be rescued by Dez who also believes her to be Susan. She awakes to find she has lost her memory, and now Roberta believes she is Susan as well. Phew, that’s only the first half hour, from there the film weaves a path of mistaken identity and fabulous 1980’s fashion, if that’s not enough for you, there’s also this moment:

Pensive Aidan Quinn + hammock + cat = magic

When this film first went into production Madonna wasn’t Madonna yet, but by the time it wrapped they needed security to keep her growing fan base at bay during filming. Desperately Seeking Susan doesn’t show that Madonna is a great actress, in fact it probably proves the contrary, but she works well because she has a magnetism and style that invite attention. Roberta is drawn to Susan in the same way Madonna’s teenaged fans were drawn to her at the time. It’s as if the film foreshadowed the Madonna explosion, you would think it was written to emphasize the allure of the budding pop star, but it was nothing more than a happy accident. Goldie Hawn, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ellen Barkin were all considered for the role of Susan. While I’m sure they each would have brought more depth to the role, it wouldn’t matter, because the only thing Susan needs to be is interesting, she doesn’t need to be likable or sympathetic—but she damn well needs to have style.

Desperately Seeking Susan was written by a woman, directed by a woman, and produced by women as well, so while it can be silly at times, it sidesteps the typical romantic comedy formula and delivers something decidedly different. In truth this film is really a love story between Roberta and Susan, not physically, but emotionally. Roberta is completely enthralled by Susan’s freedom and sense of self, and in her search for her own identity she falls in love with Susan’s, and even gets to live out the fantasy of being that identity before finally embracing her own.

There is something Alice and Wonderland-like about this film, Roberta being Alice and Susan the white rabbit she follows into a new world. Her life in New Jersey is seemingly perfect, but she’s miserable. When Roberta enters the somewhat mad world of Susan on the exciting but frightening streets of New York she finds an entirely new self. At first she needs to believe she is Susan in order to allow herself to change, but even when she regains her memory, she is no longer the suburban housewife she was, but someone new. This film is very much about duality and identity, who we are and who we want to be and why we should allow ourselves to explore both those ideas, because often they don’t line-up as perfectly as one would expect.

Sure, this film has its share of silly moments, but the great clothes and music, the strange background characters, and the somewhat goofy plot all add to the charm. Behind all the style, there is actually a very poignant message that was pretty rare for films about women at the time; be yourself, whoever that is. No matter what everyone else is telling you to be, you’re the one who decides who you are. In the ’80s women were taught they could have it all, but if you’re trying to be everything, you’ll probably lose yourself in the process. What’s really important to remember is that being who you are shouldn’t take any effort, and if it does, maybe it’s time to see what it would feel like to be someone else, you might even discover you’re not who you thought you were at all.

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Beauty in the Movies: Moonstruck

This week we spend Beauty in the Movies under a full moon in Brooklyn surrounded by lovable characters in the film Moonstruck, which will keep you laughing as you contemplate the deepest parts of life and love.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a 37-year-old Italian-American widow living in her family’s brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. When her boyfriend Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) proposes marriage before he leaves for Italy to visit his dying mother, she accepts. Johnny then tasks her with inviting his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage with his original teeth) to their wedding. When Loretta visits Ronny at his bakery she finds a tortured man with a wooden hand, who blames his brother for his troubles. After cooking him a steak and analyzing his problems, Loretta finds herself aggressively in love with her future brother-in-law.

Meanwhile, Loretta’s parents are engaged in dramas of their own. Her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis), is sure her husband, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), is cheating. Rose’s suspicions send her on a quest for answers from any man she can find, including an NYU professor (John Mahoney) who chases his female students.

Cher won an academy award for her acting in this film, but she is just one of many wonderful performances given in Moonstruck. There are amazing supporting characters including Loretta’s aunt (Julie Bovasso), uncle (Louis Guss), and grandfather (Italian actor Feodor Chaliapin Jr.) all of whom convey an incredible amount of personality in the short time they’re on screen.

Opera plays a large part in the film, Puccini’s La bohème specifically. The story doesn’t mirror the opera, but the lives of these characters weave themselves into their own larger-than-life opera as the story progresses towards the climactic finale. The writing is fantastic, the dialogue has a rhythm found primarily in New York Italian families, but it works so easily that it doesn’t feel strained or stereotypical, which is quite a feat.

Moonstruck is about three things—love, family, and death, maybe food too, but mostly it’s about those three essential parts of life. This film gives us the, sometimes much-needed, affirmation that we will all die someday—which is why it’s so important to live. Loretta is about to marry a man she doesn’t love because it’s practical, but life intervenes in her plans and she is powerless to stop it. Often in life what is the most logical choice isn’t what feels right to us, and that’s what makes humans such interesting creatures.

This film handles topics that could easily fall into cliché (marriage, cheating, romance) but it does so in a way that feels real and even surprising. While it might be a romantic comedy, it’s also about knowing who you are and what you want, not just finding your perfect someone. Often, films about love are lacking in anything but romance, but love comes in many forms and is only one part of the larger story of a person’s life. Moonstruck gives us the bigger view, love and death exist everywhere and they’re constantly interacting to give life new meaning—what really matters is that you can accept both when they come into your life, and of course, don’t forget to look up at that beautiful moon every once in a while.

Moonstruck

 

 

 

Moonstruck by justinez featuring soft leather gloves

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Beauty in the Movies: 200 Cigarettes

Tonight is New Year’s Eve! So in celebration of another year ending, it seems appropriate to feature one of the best (and only) New Year’s Eve movies out there, 200 cigarettes.

200 Cigarettes takes place in New York City on New Years Eve in 1981. It’s the story of how a group of people, who are invariably connected in different ways, all make their way to the same New Year’s Eve party. Among the many characters there is a hostess anxiously awaiting the arrival of her guests, two teenage girls from Ronkonkoma Long Island, a smooth cab driver, punks, yuppies, artists, art-world snobs and many more. It’s a movie that I’ve loved since it came out in 1999, it has a great soundtrack, and a fun plot line with the costumes to match. Sure, it’s silly, but that’s what I think makes it so great.

It’s nice that this is a movie about New York on New Year’s Eve but without all the ball dropping hoopla. The whole movie takes place in and around The Village far from the times square madness. It’s a great little movie about people and characters doing their own thing and living life and it features many prominent Village landmarks, some that no longer exist. It’s fun to see how these people’s lives entwine and cross in strange ways, all culminating in a party we never really get to see—because you know, the interesting part is how they get there right?

This movie features some actors who were already big names—Courtney Love, Christina Ricci, and some newcomers who would soon shoot to stardom, Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck, even Dave Chapelle. Sure, Christina Ricci’s accent is almost an insult to Long Islanders, but she’s cute and tries hard so I’ll forgive her. It’s also nice to see Courtney love at her most pulled together and displaying her own sense of goofy charm. Most of the film consists of great indie actors like Martha Plimpton and Janeane Garofalo who are always amazing, plus there are cameos by 80s music icons like Elvis Costello and David Johansen of The New York Dolls.

I love this movie because the characters are actually relate-able despite how over the top they may act. Every time I have a party I think about Martha Plimpton’s character in this film, and I feel exactly like her. Nobody shows up at the designated time, you’ve worked your butt off making way too much food that people might never eat, and by the time everyone does arrive (if they ever do) you’ve worked yourself into such a state of worrying, drinking and rationalizing that you question why you ever decided to have a party in the first place. The desperation of New Year’s Eve, the excitement of the city, and the anticipation of a party all come through in this film.

I actually hate New Year’s Eve, it’s depressing, I have post-christmas let down and since my birthday is the 30th I have post-birthday let down too. New Years is the last celebration before we descend into January and the epic cold darkness of that long winter stretch until Spring. New Year’s Eve makes you look back on the last 364 days and think about everything you’ve done and haven’t done and reflect on what you want the next year to be. It can be a time of regret, but also a time of hope, but before we make our lists of resolutions and promises for the coming year, we can agree to put it all aside, and just for December 31st, indulge one last time and celebrate another year lived.

200 Cigarettes is one of my favorite movies because it shows the timelessness of the New Years tradition, the need to be with people, loved ones or anyone, and enjoy the fact that we made it through the year and are given another chance to start again. Come January real life picks back up—it’s back to work, back to school, and it all starts over. So, just for tonight, indulge a little, pat yourself on the back for making it through the year and let those you love know you’re glad they made it through too—drink some champagne, tell someone you love them, and let all the old year’s troubles be forgotten, tomorrow is a new year and a new beginning.

Happy New Year Everyone! May 2011 bring you all happiness, love, joy and success!!

200 Cigarettes

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Beauty in the Movies: Mystic Pizza

I’d planned to feature this movie three weeks ago when it would have been more seasonally apropos, but sometimes Netflix disks malfunction and you just have to deal with it. It’s technically still Fall though, so I ask you to hold off on your holiday mood for a moment (I promise a more seasonally appropriate film next week, barring any Netflix complications) while you celebrate the last of the fallen leaves with a 1980s classic, Mystic Pizza.

Mystic Pizza is one of the few coming of age stories about women, and despite being a “chick flick” (god I’m sick of that label) it doesn’t follow the typical formula. Although many critics falsely state that Mystic Pizza is about three high school girls, or three girls who’ve just graduated from high school, it actually takes place during that limbo period after high school, in your late teens and early twenties, where you’re trying to figure out your place in the world as an adult.


The story centers on three women in the port town of Mystic Connecticut where they work at a pizza parlor known for it’s mysteriously delicious sauce and owned by mother figure Leona (Conchata Ferrell). Daisy Arujo (Julia Roberts) is a free spirit, she is sexy and sassy and looking for a way out of Mystic, any way she can. Her younger sister Kat (Annabeth Gish) is slinging pizzas to save money for tuition at Yale, where she has recently been accepted. Kat is bookish and lacks the big hair and chunky jewelry of her peers—that’s how you know she’s smart. She also likes astronomy and wears pleated pants. Jojo Barboza (Lili Taylor), is practically a third sister, and just as confused about her future as Daisy, especially after fainting at her wedding, much to the surprise of her fiancée (Vincent D’Onofrio).

The three girls, and most of the town, are Portuguese, which plays largely into the story. During the off-season Mystic is blissfully free of the wealthy folks who “summer” in the quaint seaside town. So when Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr. (Adam Storke) shows up at a local bar having been exiled to his parents beach house after getting kicked out of law school, Daisy can’t help but take notice. The two then embark on a whirlwind romance, despite the hindrance of their economic and class differences. The relationship is a far more convincing portrayal of cross-class love than has been explored in other films (ahem, Pretty in Pink, ahem).

At the same time, Kat finds herself in a seemingly doomed relationship of her own. In an effort to score more tuition money she takes a babysitting job watching the child of Yale-educated, ginger-haired architect Tim Travers (William R. Moses). From the minute he steps on-screen you know this pairing is a bad idea, but Kat is naive enough to think a babysitter-employer romance can turn out well.  Although it’s a clichéd situation, it is acted with such conviction by Gish that your heart goes out to her. After all, the reason clichés exist is because they happen often in real life. Everyone likes to think they’re the exception, but rarely is it true. It’s an incredibly common disappointment which requires a willing blindness that so many of us have been guilty of—but it’s learning from our mistakes and experiences which signifies a coming-of-age.

Unlike the others, Jojo and her fisherman fiancée Bill’s relationship, is a cliché turned on its head. Jojo loves Bill but would rather have sex than talk about marriage. When Bill renames his boat “nympho” after her, Jojo screams at him from the dock “you can’t force me to do something I’m not ready to do…and until I am, if I am, the answer is NO!”. It’s an empowering moment, and one that should be equally noted by men who are hesitant to walk down the aisle. Forcing anyone to get married is a bad idea, and if it comes to that, it’s probably best that both parties step back and think about what they’re willing to compromise for the happiness of the person they love, sometimes it’s worth the compromise, and sometimes it’s not—yet another major life lesson thrown into this atypical “chick flick”.

Based on the reviews on IMDB (an fascinating way to see how differently people see the world) a lot of men seem utterly confused by Jojo’s character, as if the idea of a woman who didn’t want to get married but wanted to have sex was entirely fictional. What that says to me is that some men really don’t know women at all, maybe that’s why we keep getting the same tired “chick flicks”. It’s also pretty enlightened that, despite being called a nympho by her fiancée, Jojo isn’t slut-shamed, or made into a caricature of a sex-crazed women (à la Samantha in SATC).

I have to point out Matt Damon’s brief film debut in which he plays a preppy rich kid by the name of “steamer” whose only line is “mom, do you want my green stuff?”. When Roger Ebert reviewed this film in 1988, he said “I have a feeling that “Mystic Pizza” may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars”. I don’t think he was talking about Matt Damon, but Ebert was correct in predicting a lot of big talent would get its start in this film. Obviously Julia Roberts, but also Lili Taylor, Vincent D’Onofrio and even the lesser known Gish (who has continued to work steadily) got their first leading roles in this film.

While Mystic Pizza might not be the most unpredictable or solidly written film, it has endured because of its honesty, which at times may seem saccharine (youth is often sweet as well as sour though isn’t it?). For a lighthearted romantic film, it deals with some big issues; racism, classism, sex, friendship, and figuring out who you are and who you want to be with. If the acting weren’t so earnest, if the clichés weren’t present, the story wouldn’t ring as true, because the most charming part of the film is its smallness. It sucks that when this movie is mentioned it’s emphasized that the characters are blue-collar, hard workers, blah, blah, blah, because what does that say about most films out there? Everyone is inexplicably rich, and how they came to be that way is casually thrown aside (especially in the “chick flick” genre). It’s sad that we don’t see more films about people like the rest of us, because there are just as many interesting stories to be told about everyday people living and working through their “little” lives.

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Beauty in the Movies: Working Girl

When I first decided to start Beauty in the Movies, one of the films I had in mind was Working Girl, it’s one of the most iconic examples of female empowerment in cinema, and it’s got an awesome 80’s wardrobe to go with it.

(click to enlarge)

When we were little (way too little to understand most of it) my sister and I watched this movie over and over again. I think mostly it had to do with Joan Cusack’s insanely fabulous hair and make-up, seeing Han Solo as a business man, and also the song “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon which we sang loudly and repeatedly to the intense annoyance of my mother.

Working Girl is the story of Tess McGill, a Wall Street secretary from Staten Island with the brains of a high-powered executive, and as she puts it—”a bod for sin”. Unfortunately, since she is lacking the breeding and ivy league education, all she gets out of her bosses is sexual harassment in the form of set-ups with jerks (including Kevin Spacey) who treat her like a prostitute. Tess thinks it’s a blessing when she ends up the secretary to powerful businesswoman Catherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) who promises to help her and listen to her ideas, but as many of us with office experience have learned, for some awful reason female bosses can sometimes be far crueler than their male counterparts. When Catherine breaks her leg during a ski trip, Tess discovers that Catherine has been so impressed with her ideas that she is planning to pass them off as her own. In her mentoring of Tess, Catherine gave her secretary the excellent advice that only you alone can make things happen for yourself—and that’s exactly what Tess resolves to do.

Since Catherine already started the ball rolling on Tess’s business proposition, all Tess has to do is contact Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), the broker Catherine was planning to work with, and give herself a makeover in time for their meeting. I won’t go farther than that, you’ll just have to see it for yourself if you haven’t already. Some other reasons to see this film; Joan Cusack as Tess’s best friend Cyn, a brief appearance by Ricki Lake, and even better—David Duchovny as an extra, or as he is referred to in the credits a “Party Friend”, the slicked back hair is not a good look for him.

Working Girl is a Cinderella story of sorts, and though Harrison Ford does make a particularly charming prince, Tess is really the one who saves herself. She could have just accepted her place, she could have been discouraged by listening to her bosses, or her sleazy boyfriend (Alec Baldwin), or even the other secretaries, but she doesn’t, she goes after what she wants.

This movie is loaded with great performances, all three ladies scored Oscar noms for their performances—Melanie, Sigourney and Joan, and Mike Nichols was nominated for best director as well. It’s a rare film that manages to fall into the category of romantic comedy while also being taken quite seriously. It’s Melanie Griffith’s performance that keeps this film from being a typical rom-com, she portrays a mix of vulnerability, ambition, and pride that make her character both believable and sympathetic. While Harrison Ford is adorable and captivating (there is a great scene where he changes his shirt in the office to the delight of the secretarial pool), it’s the ladies that give the film depth. Even the villainous Catherine, played so impeccably by Ms.Weaver, manages to avoid being one-dimensional. Catherine doesn’t purposely want to hurt Tess—but she doesn’t believe it’s her fault if she has to step on people to get to the top.

As I was watching this last night I couldn’t help but think of Mad Men, one of my (and everyone’s) favorite shows. Just as Mad Men is a peek into office life in the 1960’s, Working Girl is the 1980’s equivalent. Obviously Mad Men is far more serious and stylized, but the hierarchy and the struggle for women remains the same. A major issue on Mad Men is whether women are better off trying to behave like men in the office, or if they should embrace their sexuality rather than stifle it. Catherine Parker is a perfect example of a businesswoman who refuses to dress in boxy suits and dull shades to put the men at ease. Besides, if a confident women puts her male colleagues on guard, and draws attention to the fact that she is something different—all the better. For Mad Men fans it’s easy to draw parallels between Tess McGill and Peggy Olson, too bad we don’t get to see the way Tess’s career plays out over the years as we get to see with Peggy. 

Tess McGill has become an icon for working women, she represents the struggle to be taken seriously, to go after your goals, and to achieve anything you put your mind to (even in an unconventional way). This film still resonates because women are still second-rate citizens in the business world. As of 2009 only 1.5% of the 2,000 top performing companies worldwide were women. Sadly, that is a huge jump from the 1980’s when there were virtually no female heads of major companies. There is still a huge pay gap for women both in and out of the business world. Even as CEOs of major companies women tend to make less than half the pay of their male counterparts. I wish this film could be looked at as a lighthearted romantic comedy, but the issues that made it powerful at the time still remain more than twenty years later. Sorry to bum you out, but it’s the truth, and a very important one to remember. The gender wage gap exists, and the only way we can ever change that is by admitting that it’s there, I don’t think Tess McGill would have stood for it, so why the hell should we right?

When my sister and I watched Working Girl as kids, I think we both related to it because it’s New York, and as strange as the big hair and blue eyeshadow seem now, at the time that felt familiar, it was what my babysitters and my aunts were wearing. I think my sister took away more from the film than rainbow eyeshadow and shoulder padded suits. We were raised in an apartment in Queens and never had much money, but what we did have was parents who told us we could be absolutely anything we put our mind to (and who let us watch this movie!), so she ended up a high-powered attorney in Manhattan, I consider her a Tess McGill of her own making, and we’re very proud of her. I hope this film continues to inspire young women for a long time to come and I hope it teaches them that they truly are the ones who make it happen, male or female, nobody is going to achieve your goals for you, and that’s a fact.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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