[13 May 2008]
Never underestimate the ‘80s and their unashamed obsession with “magical girlfriend” movies. From films like Splash and Date with an Angel, to films like Weird Science, all of them are similar and follow the same plot outline. The basic template is something like this:
• Main protagonist is a loser who has no luck with girls or has a real girlfriend who doesn’t understand him.
• Main guy finds magical girlfriend (usually an angel, mermaid, or science experiment) and they fall in love.
• An antagonist lurks about, and its sole purpose is exposing the magical girlfriend.
• In the end, the protagonist and the magical girlfriend escape persecution, gain public acceptance, and spend the rest of their lives happy ever after.
Despite the lack of originality, these flicks encompass everything to love about the ‘80s. Sure they’re incredibly cheesy, and sure there’s always an obnoxious musical montage involving hats, but the love comes from pure nostalgic purposes. The three-minute cartoon intro at the beginning of Mannequin is enough to capture the attention of any child. Chances they’ll see the flaws in this movie? Probably not. Chances they might grow up into a cynical adult and then see the flaws in this movie? Probably, but luckily the power of nostalgia will keep them a fan, even if the film is not as brilliant as they remember. After all, that’s why they keep releasing these things on DVD, right?
Much like the other magical girlfriend movies, Mannequin is loyal to the formula. Protagonist Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) is a struggling, wannabe artist who can’t keep a job. He wants to be a sculptor, but assembling mannequins is about as close he can get. After finding a new job as a window decorator at a struggling mall, he meets Emmy (Kim Cattrall), an ancient Egyptian whose soul is now in a mannequin. They both fall in love, much to the dismay of everyone else who can’t see that Emmy is magical.
Although the pure ‘80s cheese is still here, one thing I hadn’t noticed before is the fetishizing of Emmy the mannequin. The whole movie is basically a G-rated male fantasy. Jonathan is lonely and misunderstood; the only person who understands him is his magical girlfriend. It goes hand in hand with lonely men who fall in love with inanimate objects. Oh, if only they could walk and talk!
It also trickles down to the treatment of the “real” girlfriends. Jonathan’s girlfriend, who dumps him at the beginning of the movie, is villanized for simply wanting a more stable, reliable boyfriend. The scene where she tries to dump the mannequin into a shredder is so needlessly evil. Although the movie wants us to think of her as a monster, she is actually a sympathetic character. She’s only jealous because she still loves Jonathan; she dumped him because she wanted him to have a steady job and a steady income.
After Jonathan lands a job as a window decorator, she gives him another chance, but is stood up while Jonathan frolics with his magical girlfriend Emmy. The next day, Jonathan tries to apologize. He tells her he was late for their dinner date because a mannequin came to life, but of course, she doesn’t “understand” him. There’s a similar theme in Date with an Angel where Phoebe Cate’s character goes from cute girlfriend to gun toting lunatic who wears underwear outside her pants. These writers must have some serious pent up rage against their ex-girlfriends.
Surprisingly, Mannequin 2: On the Move still stands the test of time. Unlike Mannequin, Mannequin 2 doesn’t try to be a touching romantic comedy. It knows it’s a cheesy film and the campiness is turned all the way up. The characters are extra silly, the plot is extra illogical, and even “Hollywood” Montrose (Meshach Taylor), the eccentric head window dresser, is extra flamboyant.
The plots are essentially the same. Jason Williamson (William Ragsdale) is a successful assistant window dresser. One day he gets a special mannequin that’s, according to legend, a 1,000-year-old peasant girl frozen in time by a curse. He weirdly kisses the mannequin one day and is shocked when she comes to life. They fall in love, but have to watch out for the evil sorcerer and his three bumbling sidekicks who want to steal the mannequin and take it back to their country. Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe this movie, but it is funny. For one, the main character is not a loser; he’s successful. There’s also no psychotic ex-girlfriend lurking around. Mannequin 2 is essentially a more light-hearted affair, and it’s wrapped in too much early ‘90s cuteness to hate.
The DVD contains no special features, but at least one can indulge in ‘80s cheese for the price of one. Some things tend to get better with age, some things hold up, as Mannequin 2 might be categorized, but Mannequin is like the old bottle of wine that’s turned to vinegar. Or perhaps it was vinegar all along.