Reduced to watching ‘Who’s That Girl'(1987).

“Two for the 9.50 screening, please…”

“Er…there was one at nine *fifteen*…?”.

This was the third time in total. You look on the website; you note the time of a cinema screening; you turn up and ask for a ticket…and you get told that it doesn’t exist. You’re left feeling debagged, with no leg to stand on. Even if you prepared for the worst and took a phone photo ‘screen grab’ of the cinema’s site and its times, there’s probably small print there to say: “All times subject to change.”. I was essentially taunted with start times; they weren’t set in stone. The football team that I go to see play (more on them another time) used to give us the full-time results as we slowly filed outside back to real life and we’d calculate league positions based on those results. Sometimes, though, upon returning to the car, one would find out that those “results” weren’t results after all but latest scores. Then just give us ‘latest scores’, please, football stadium announcing guy, don’t toy with us, man! Anyway, here we took our leave, hiding behind the cloak of a spurious ‘fifty’/’fifteen’ phone conversation mix-up rather than starting an argument that would only have one winner.

My family member and I shuffled off back to her house. Earlier, I’d gone though the DVDs and Blu-rays in the house and earmarked her partner’s discs for borrowing. He’s got a strong liking for Madonna and I took the chance to see ‘Evita’ again by putting that in my backpack (a creative, extremely enjoyable film with Madonna being simply excellent, if not quite Caroline Bowman standard. Compare and contrast Madonna’s singing prior to Evita with afterwards: what was limited and straining before, became deeper and stronger post-Evita.) and, praise be, I finally got my paws on the flop ‘Who’s That Girl’. Yay!

My family member hadn’t seen it either so we decided to give it a spin. I expected a pile of nonsense but, sometimes, if you know that going in, you can have a whale of a time. Over in New York City, on the same day, there was a retrospective of Madonna’s dull adventures on a cinema screen going on, stinking out the city’s ‘Metrograph’, so we’d give it a go and join them in spirit.

Gah! Even the title on the box started to get my back up and alienate me: ‘Who’s That Girl’ rather than ‘Who’s That Girl?’. Still, R.E.M.’s wonderful ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ also snapped its fingers in the face of correct punctuation with its errant spelling of ‘Life’s’ and that’s one of their best collections of work. Be open; be receptive; give it a chance…

The first twenty minutes lasted a lot longer than twenty minutes, I’m sure of it, but you had to love the film-makers’ bravery. It’s a generalisation but dramas/serious films tend to work on a sliding scale while comedies tend to either completely succeed or completely fail, depending on the viewer. I always try to remember this when confronted with Adam Sandler’s fat, smug, Republican visage: the man’s brave enough to go for comedy, not – outside of a couple of examples – the perhaps easier, perhaps more forgiving, life of drama. However, going further into the notion of comedy leads one to the ever more refined, trickier tributaries of, say, farce or screwball.

If drama is as difficult as walking a high wire, comedy is walking a high wire while juggling; and farce or screwball is like walking a high wire while juggling flaming torches…and juggling chainsaws; no, more like walking a high wire while juggling flaming, kerosene-soaked, chainsaws. Both farce and screwball have to work perfectly or else only great unhappiness can ensue; they have to be designed and calibrated to perfection and here, with ‘Who’s That Girl’, you had a pop star at the top of the ticket, trying to bluff her way through and hoping she didn’t get found out.

Madonna plays a rough-and-ready woman who serves four years in jail for a crime she didn’t commit (the animated titles tell this backstory so be aware) and we first see her, we first see Madonna as Madonna playing her character, when she’s granted an early parole, wise-cracking her way through the hearing. Griffin Dunne, After Hours and An American Werewolf in London Griffin Dunne, plays the male second banana, dragooned by his prospective father-in-law into picking Madonna’s character up from prison, taking her to the bus station and making sure that she gets out of town.

Once the narrative all kicks into gear, though, you do find yourself relaxing into it. Dunne is adroit and Madonna does try to give it her all and she has some good lines too, although her character’s accent takes some deciphering for my European ears.

Guns get fired; things get vandalised; trousers get lost (of course); things get stolen; Madonna’s songs get crowbarred into position; Sir John Mills hopefully earned himself a nice cheque; social events get bum-rushed; people lie, only to drop themselves further into trouble and the last seventy minutes seems to last slightly less than seventy minutes.

Was it any good? I don’t know. The film’s script, to its credit, doesn’t do the milquetoast, play-it-safe thing; maybe it was looking for a dynamite director (maybe Peter Bogdanovich?) and two strong, know-what-they’re-doing leads (Mary-Louise Parker and Tom Hanks, perhaps, although Griffin Dunne’s really not too bad at all)? To cripple what I said above, ‘Who’s That Girl’ is a screwball comedy that doesn’t really work but I still liked it. Should you see it? Now that you’ve been forewarned, yes, although you’ve essentially seen it already anyway if you’re au fait with 80s pop videos and how they’d cut-and-paste loads of bits of the film it’s promoting into its three minutes or so.

In ‘Performance’ (1970), James Fox character’s line: “You’ll look funny when you’re fifty” gets some retrospective chortles but that line lacks relevance to now because Mick Jagger can only be measured against Mick Jagger. I hold no great brief for Jagger and the Stones post the early 1970s, although they can still touch greatness when they want to, but he doesn’t ‘look funny’…he just looks like Mick Jagger. Some people just seem to get to such a level of all pervasive fame that they are (awful word) icons and can only be compared to themselves: Madonna, Mick Jagger, Angelina Jolie and the like. Watching Madonna try to survive playing the lead in a 1980s screwball comedy is reward, enjoyment and interest in itself, notwithstanding the actual quality of the movie. Even Richard Lester’s shockingly terrible ‘How I Won the War’ (1967) (I like Richard Lester normally) is worth a watch to see John Lennon grappling with a straight role.

‘Who’s That Girl’ was pretty interesting. Afterwards I took the disc anyway so I’ll watch it again. Wonderfully, I also spied a rare copy of Madonna’s previous “work” ‘Shanghai Surprise’ and I can’t wait to watch that alleged abomination. I’ll give it a fair shake and see what drops….probably my will to live, but we’ll see.

 

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