Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: James Foley
I don't know what the opposite is of "catching lightning in a bottle", but Who's That Girl? (1987) is here to make me wonder what that might be, or if we're in need of a new phrase.
Look. If you were a straight dude coming of age in the 1980's, you might not have talked about it, but chances are you spent a lot of time thinking about Madonna. Not as part of the cultural discourse that somehow always placed Madonna in the middle of the po-discourse Venn Diagram and which was mostly nonsense, but for other reasons. There's twenty seconds of video here which will help you understand.
So, yes. Madonna. By 1987 she was a marketing and musical force who decided to dabble in acting. Warner Bros., who was in the Madonna business and made both music and movies, said "sure, whatever". Madonna somehow landed on a script about a girl getting out of prison who has to prove she's innocent, and decided this would be the movie she'd make.
If catching lightning in a bottle is an unique combination of factors that come together and create a very special film, this is a mix of predictable hackery paired with an unprepared celebrity who doesn't know the difference between fame and talent needed to pull off a project.
Look. It's easy to blame a director, and maybe you can? James Foley had already made At Close Range before this film, many of the iconic Madonna music videos and would direct one of my faves, Glengarry Glen Ross, five years later. He ALSO directed the second two Fifty Shades movies, so... you know. Who the hell knows?
But it's really hard to quantify how *bad* Madonna is in this movie. And how much this movie thinks it's a screwball comedy without knowing how those movies, or - indeed - any movies work. We're a full 35 minutes in before we even begin to understand who Madonna's character is and what she's up to. It does not help that at this point in her career, Madonna clearly thought "acting" was the same as "bring manic energy and do a bit", like you're doing one long comedy sketch. And pretty clearly no one was able to tamp that down.
Sometimes you can see some ideas and bits that are kind of funny, particularly when Madonna isn't involved. Haviland Morris plays the fiance of co-star Griffin Dunne, and there's a whole thing where she's tied up like Polly Pureheart and still trying to do her Co-Op interview with a gun to her. That's funny! As is the sort of cloud of bridesmaids who are treated as a sort of cartoonish single entity.
But you have to want to spend time with leads in a comedy, or at least see what's going to happen with them, and neither Dunne nor Madonna are just... annoying. It does not help that nothing about the movie makes much sense, mistaking a lack of plot for mystery, and when they do outline the mystery, it's something you can't possibly care about. Because it happened to these annoying-as-hell characters.
The 1980's urban quirky manic pixie dream girl that Madonna is playing here kind of shows up in various forms, I feel, from about 1982 to about 1992. Melanie Griffith certainly dabbled in them. All of them are mistakenly compared to Marilyn Monroe who wouldn't have been caught dead doing that schtick, and mostly just proves that people mostly haven't actually seen a Marilyn Monroe movie (Madonna had already tried to borrow Monroe's persona for the admittedly terrific video that's an homage of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Material Girl). But the "no one blinks when someone casually destroys a stranger's Rolls Royce" thing has mostly gone away as audiences seem to have pointed out "that makes her an absolute asshole, actually."
Anyway, I don't say this very often, but I hated this movie. It feels like every bad 1980's movie impulse in one package, from counting on vintage film formulas they can't pull off (the screwball comedy) to taking what was probably once a perfectly fine script and letting someone who didn't know what they were doing rewrite it (people love rewriting other people's stuff!), and basically half-assing it with the very reasonable belief that people would pay to see it, anyway, while also snapping up the soundtrack.