Convinced she failed to win a journalism contest because of her gender, Bob Woodward-wannabe Terri (Joyce Hyser) decides to re-enter the contest as a guy in order to prove a point to her sexist English teacher and maybe win an internship with a swanky metropolitan newspaper. She cuts her hair, affects a husky drawl, shoves a sock down her pants, and enrolls at a new school, convinced that in a week she’ll be well on her way to achieving her dreams. Her plans, though, don’t go entirely as expected, and soon she’s (or “he’s”) battling school bullies, deflecting the advances of a young nymph, taking tips on ball-scratching from her teenaged brother, and falling in love with her new best friend, Rick (Clayton Rohner).
While it may not be entirely original, Just One of the Guys has more going for it than the standard adolescent cross-dressing flick, namely, a wry self-awareness. Just One of the Guys knows that we know that we’re going to see the obligatory girl-dressed-as-boy-in-locker-room scene and that our heroine is going to fall for a guy who’s clueless as to her true identity. But this film tweaks the clichés, giving its audience something to think about along with a few cheap laughs. Sadly, though, it’s mostly remembered for its titty-flash and the outrageous performance by Billy Jacoby as Terri’s young brother rather than for its intelligent storytelling.
This is not a movie about gender equality, nor is it a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Unlike Nobody’s Perfect (1989), Anything for Love (1993) and Little Sister (1992), each of which used the gender-swapping storyline primarily as a means for their protagonists to score with a hot babe, this movie chooses instead to explore the ways in which societal constraints and perceived ideas of how boys and girls are supposed to act with each other can often hinder sexual growth. After a brief reference to Yentl the film’s gender-bending element is mostly relegated to the sidelines, leaving room for an odd love story between a boy and a girl pretending to be a boy.
Rick and Terri’s relationship is dealt with in a sophisticated way, succeeding in large measure because of Hyser’s earnest performance, and the fact that she makes a convincing boy. She’s so good, in fact, that after a few scenes in costume, it’s almost a shock to see her back in girl-mode. We believe Rick is falling for her because we believe in her. Terri might choose him because she finds him genuinely engaging and decidedly different from her bohunk boyfriend back home, but he chooses her rather unwittingly — he’s falling for her despite her gender, and is not outwardly afraid of that.
While Rick may not question his sexuality outright, his confusion is clearly visible in instances involving Terri accidentally getting a little too close for comfort. His emotions (and hers) are realistically outlined, rather than used as fodder for body-swapping gags. The interplay between the two is clever and affirming, so that their budding romance remains plausible, and sometimes rather intense, throughout.
The movie hits its mark, too, with its eccentric cast of supporting players. There’s no such thing as an extra here. Almost every actor on screen for longer than a frame is given a complete story arc, from Terri’s hornier-than-thou brother and the guy with all the reptiles to the gym teacher who speaks in bowling metaphors and the table-lifting jock (played by William Zabka, perennial ’80s bad boy who was nominated this year for an Oscar for co-writing the Live Action Short Film, Most). It’s this kind of development and careful writing that adds to Just One of the Guys‘ credibility, positing that some ’80s teen flicks had a few brains to go along with the hot bods, cool tunes, and rad cars.
It’s a real pity, then, that the DVD itself does not match the quality of the film, with Columbia seeing fit to offer up a poor print, full-frame, with slight sound and color issues, and only a few trailers as bonus features. It almost makes you wonder why they even bothered. Still, Just One of the Guys is worth repeated viewing, especially for Hyser’s hilarious and charismatic performance. Okay, and the titty-flash.