Each post, I revisit a film I loved as a lad, most of them inappropriate given my tender age at the time, and decide if they still pass muster. Stream of conscious rambling and massive spoilers ahead, always.
Just One of the Guys (April 26, 1985)
The Joey Gist: Look, I have no idea when I first saw this movie. All I can tell you is that I watched it, six, maybe ten times a week between the ages of 6 and 16. My dad recorded it for my siblings and me off HBO on one of the many VCRs I ruined by feeding cookies and sandwiches to it because I couldn’t accept inanimate objects as they were. Anyway, this was all back in the mid to late 80’s when HBO had that cool, kind of scary synth thumping while the channel logo drifted through space and slowly illuminated a neon purple not unlike a bag of Deli potato chips.
The Film’s Gist: Ah, the oldest story in the book: slightly mannish high school girl (Joyce Hyser, of never-starred-in-any-other-movies-again fame) dreams of being a journalist; girl loses important journalism prize/internship presumably because she’s a woman; girl is told by pervy journalism teacher that her body is hot but her investigative reporting is not; girl, enraged, decides to temporarily switch schools, lops off all of her hair, and starts dressing like Ralph Macchio, so she can write a seething expose about sexism; girl succeeds a little too well, falls for boy (Clayton Rohner, whose face you may have recognized back in the day but he’s since aged like a less attractive Dennis Miller, so I think we can guess why we now see him nowhere) who thinks she’s a boy; girl gets stuck in a lot of madcap scenarios involving other girls who want to bone her because they think she’s a boy (the lovely Sherilyn Fenn, in an early role); girl winds up hurting/confusing a whole lot of people to make her point; all the while, girl has a hilarious, sex-starved younger brother (the brilliant-just-this-once Billy Jacoby, whose only other noteworthy role was a guest spot on “The Golden Girls” as Blanche Devereaux’s punk grandson who gets bitch slapped by Sophia for telling them to “kiss my attitude”! Agh! Such a good episode!) who alternately helps keep and nearly blow her cover time and time again.
What I Thought Then: First, let me make an important and long-winded confession: for a good long time I believed that movies (and television shows) were all performed live. I assumed that when I went to the theater, the actors and the scenery existed behind the silver screen thanks to some practical magic. It wasn’t until I left the theater following the original Child’s Play all panicky and freaked out that Chucky was still alive and possess my body in my sleep that my father finally took notice and schooled me in the cold hard facts, that though my colorful logic was as adorable as my golden curls and fat cheeks, it just wasn’t so (and just in the knick of time too–shortly after, Zelda of Pet Sematary infamy nearly made me crap myself when she puked herself to death, but I digress). Still, some films I loved so deeply that they simply transcended entertainment and became an accepted and integral part of my formative years, like masturbation, or Bonkers–good God do I miss eating Bonkers.
Anyway, Just One of the Guys is one of the most prominent examples of said delusion. I’d watch a bit in the morning while dressing for school, I’d catch it on television later that night, I’d wake up before anyone else on a Saturday morning and watch the entire thing whilst plowing through a box of Fruity Pebbles, and sometimes synchronize with my best friend Kristin Raymundo, who was also sure to be watching it for the third time that week, silently over the phone for 90 minutes, and then we’d hang up as if we’d just had the most important conversation on earth.
What I’m saying, dear reader, is that this movie was no movie to me. It was my daily bread, my touchstone, my confidante. All of the answers to life’s tough questions could be found in its witty dialogue, in its its live-band-at-every-high-school-dance soundtrack, in each and every scene involving bare breasts and jocks giving bug-loving nerds wedgies. There were no flaws here, folks. Just sheer joy and laughter and jokes and gags that tickled and warmed me as exuberantly the four-hundredth time as the first. Sigh.
What’s Still Good: All right, now that I’ve sufficiently embarrassed and outed myself as ca-ray-zay, let’s get down to what (slightly more) objectively is actually good about this movie 24 years later. The concept, as ludicrous as it is, is amusing and, though it was basically a reverse Tootsie for the teen set, the formulaic script is actually still pretty damn hilarious. Much of this is thanks to the spirited performances–yes, there aren’t any good actors in this film, but it’s evident that everyone is enjoying themselves and that energy clearly translates on screen. As I mentioned earlier, Billy Jacob’s performance as Buddy, Terri (Hyser)’s younger brother, is the film’s standout. He gets pretty much all of the killer lines in the movie and, often, they are full-fledged monologues, most about sex and genitalia, such as when he assures Terri that “all balls itch; it’s a fact,” when he’s teaching her how to scratch and rearrange her makeshift sweatsock crotch, or when he gets into a one-sided, filthy verbal alteraction with a guy from school, slams down the phone, and tells Terri that “mom says hi.” He also encourages Terri to “show off that hairy chest” when Sandy the Fish Girl (Fenn) comes over to seduce our gender-bending heroine. Hyser does all right as the lead, but when she’s Terri the Girl, she’s kind of awkward, with her deep voice and broad frame and dark features; when she transforms into Terry the Boy, she’s utterly convincing, and it becomes clear why she was cast, even if she, strangely, can’t pull off her true sex.
There’s a lot more good about this movie, and I could get into the small details, but it’s really best seen for one’s self. I do recognize all these years later that Just One of the Guys is not the life-changing experience it seemed then, but for all of its by-the-numbers cliches and obeyance of quintessential 80’s movie gestures, it really is a standout in the vain of, say, Better Off Dead.
Oh, and this dude who played the villain/asshole in just about every movie in the 80’s does the same thing here, and it’s probably his finest work.
What’s Not So Good: I won’t pick this movie’s problems apart because, if I do, it’ll all unravel–the logistics of how nobody noticed that in the middle of the year this popular high school student just abruptly disappeared while an uncanny male doppleganger with the same name appeared at a neighboring school; the laziness of simply having Buddy and Terri’s parents be “away” without explanation for the duration of the film (which seems to span weeks); the fact that a public school would even allow such a transfer without any paperwork, any inter-township taxation, any…parents? So, yeah, I’ll leave all that out of this because then it’s just the equilvalent of shitting on Christmas by saying that Santa Claus was made up by Coca Cola, you know what I’m saying?
The Current Gist: I think my experience rewatching Just One of the Guys with a close, critical eye is best expressed with these sage words.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey