Late Fees: Modern Girls (1986)
Rockie Juarez, a video store junkie, has a lot of cinematic blind spots. While he is surrounded by awe-inspiring cinema, it is impossible to dive into all the world of movies has to offer. Thankfully, he has the incredible Stephanie Crawford to point him in dangerous directions he has overlooked or has been too damn lazy to dive into. Will these recommendations elevate his love for cinema or will these films completely melt his brain, causing it to leak profusely out of his nose? Read along as these two cinephiles break down and dissect each recommendation, hopefully without going for one another's throat.
Stephanie’s recommendation to Rockie this week is Modern Girls, the up-all-night comedy from 1986 starring Virginia Madsen, Daphne Zuniga, and Cynthia Gibb.
Rockie Juarez: A mutated After Hours high-off-of-L.A. fumes, Modern Girls takes us through a wild evening loaded with sex, drugs and L.A. scene music from all genres. Three young ladies are just out to have a great time but mainly end up looking for love in all the wrong places and, like getting multiball on a pinball machine, they get bounced around L.A. bars and clubs. The “modern girls” are played by Virginia Madsen, Cynthia Gibbs and Daphne Zuniga, all roomies who are in love with rock stars (the character Bruno X feels like an Adam Ant/Billy Idol hybrid), arrogant DJs, or suckers who will buy them drinks. The story is from Anita Rosenberg and Laurie Craig, with a screenplay by Craig, and it really taps into girls just hanging out and frankly has a voice that no dude could nail without getting pervy about it.
While I didn't flat out love Modern Girls, I appreciate the lunacy of it all. It is not afraid to switch gears and this is where the club settings come into play. Each club represents a certain scene or vibe that was huge in the late ‘80s, allowing the film to be an all-encompassing California dream, kaleidoscopic and never hallucinatory. Clayton Rohner playing two roles is having the most fun in this film. He enters the film as a lovesick puppy named Clifford (nicknamed Cliffy) who is jonesing for Kelly’s (Madsen) attention AND he plays the British rockstar Bruno X. He is run ragged as Cliffy and can have anyone as Bruno X. That had to be fun for an actor to have to do so much in one film so early in his career. I liked Modern Girls overall and while I think a lot of the jokes do not land, the vibe is fully there. A free-spirited film with women doing their damn thing and eventually making all the right choices, especially in the finale. Alss, a ladies’ triple feature with Earth Girls Are Easy, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and this film would be gangbusters. So why do you love Modern Girls, Steph?
Stephanie Crawford: Honestly, your amazing triple feature is a big reason why. It has that great, sunny, girlfriends-on-adventures plot and feel to it, and I’m a complete mark for those kinds of movies. As a kid, I’d constantly fantasize about how cool being a teenager was going to be, so I gobbled these kinds of movies up when they’d rerun on TV, and they only stoked that dumb, misguided fire. Modern Girls, though, I only discovered a couple of years ago on Blu-ray, but it took me right back to those romantic fantasies about a world that looked like the neon promo graphics that they’d put on late night TBS shows in the 1990s. Everyone is pretty, brave, the hijinks are manageable, and you get kissed at the end. While my own teen years weren’t quite a romantic comedy, I did have so many great, delirious nights with my friends, listening to music, flirting without focus or intent, and giggling and whirling on sidewalks while the sun set at the end of a suburban street. Films in the Modern Girls’ vein take me right back there.
Beyond that, I think it’s a genuinely fun film and the chemistry between the cast borders on intoxicating. Gibbs, Madsen, and Zuniga really seem like they’ve been friends for a while, and Clayton Rohner is amazing as always here. He, along with Dean Cameron, cornered the market on friendly, slightly goofy, cute guys in this era of high school/college era comedies. He knows that the modern girls are the stars here, and he pulls a Ralph Bellamy by being an easy-going second banana who shines in his close-up scenes but allows everyone else to shine in theirs. I love that he almost feels like a “token guy” here, which is a feeling and concept women usually have had to deal with instead. Making him pull a double shift just adds to this theory, and how a game Rohner always adds a lot of fun to some scenes that may otherwise be a little rote.
I’ll always stick up for “dated” movies, because having that sense of time and place is a gift, and we should appreciate all those outfits and hairstyles and disappeared storefronts when we can. All that said, Rockie, the Depeche Mode song in this movie is fire, and their video even promotes the film. Watch it and then tell me exactly why this treasure didn’t completely pan out for you, and if not this, what kind of kicky, old school comedic romances tend to get you instead?
RJ: You just had to bust out the Depeche Mode to drive your point home didn’t you? Now I need to reevaluate my whole life, nevermind this film. Modern Girls is harmless and really likes to have a good time. I can’t really get mad at a film that sets out to do just that. I do love the fact that a creepy dude gets kicked in the nuts for being a complete jerk by one of our leading ladies. He came off as a dude looking for a good time earlier but instantly snaps when he can’t hook up. All of these men should be rounded up and shot into space, but this visual will have to suffice. Most of the men in this film are total butts, so it makes the women stand out even more during the madcap adventure. Again, not exactly the funniest film, but it has heart where it matters and those colors just pop kind of like another film you recommended to me, Vamp, which I had already seen but it had been so damn long it needed another viewing. So I am onboard with Modern Girls, just not madly in love with it.
SC: I get it. Modern Girls is one of those movies that, as tightly constructed and well-written and acted it is, I know it’s not an underrated masterpiece. This is very comfortably one of those movies I can throw on almost any time and feel a lot happier afterwards than I did before the Depeche Mode kicks in. It’s stylish, fun and, most importantly, funny at its own expense rather than that of its characters, and that’s shockingly rare with 1980s party comedies, especially when it comes to portraying young, attractive women. It’s high-end ice cream in the form of a movie, and I think I recommended this to you as more of a dessert than a main course. Sure, Rockie, you may not be in love, but I don’t think that you can argue that Modern Girls wouldn’t make a great first serious girlfriend.