Directed By: Lisa Gottlieb
Screenplay By: Dennis Feldman, Jeff Franklin
Story By: Dennis Feldman
Produced By: Andrew Fogelson
Cast: Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, Billy Zabka, Sherilynn Fenn
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 100 minutes
Review Date: August 13, 2010
As a genre, ’80s teen comedies generally aren’t intended to be more than popcorn fodder - or, in the modern age, late night programming for the USA Network. Sure, there are exceptions (Heathers and the films of John Hughes come to mind), but for the most part, “good” examples of the genre are as awkward and cheap as the ruffles on your first tux. Scratch through the shoulder pads and cheesy synth-rock, though, and there’s a scrappiness burning underneath the best of them. This can turn a video store castaway into another relic of ’80s nostalgia worship - or, at the very least, a passably entertaining hour and a half.
Just One of the Guys falls somewhere in between. Its characters are stereotypes, but in high school, people tend to see one another as stereotypes anyway. And while the writing is often wince-inducing, and the acting reminds you of drama class, the movie gets you to laugh through sheer persistence, as well as few well-polished gems of dialogue.
Terry Griffith (Joyce Hyser) is a single-girl-in-the-city-to-be. She’s driven, gorgeous, and has the brains to become a reporter. Sadly, everyone from her preppy boyfriend to her journalism teacher sees her as little more than a haircut. It’s a man’s world - so she decides to play on their turf. Terry cuts her hair, dons stylish New Waver clothes and decides to spend a week as a boy, hoping a feature article will earn her respect and a summer job at a newspaper.
Despite a blatantly fake “guy” voice, she’s actually quite passable (a female admirer dates the film by mooning over Terry, the boy who “dresses like Elvis Costello and looks like the Karate Kid”). In fact, she becomes best buds with a cute new student named Rick, falling for him without being sure how to get the story and a prom date at the same time.
Needless to say, the film’s premise is a little dubious. If Terry’s such a freethinking girl, why does she need to become a guy in order to get ahead? Ostensibly it’s to understand the male mindset, but she never plumbs gender politics that deeply. It’d be a more interesting film if it did, but put those ideas out of mind, popcorn in your mouth, and chew, chew, chew.
Terry basically goes through the ’80s high school ringer, but as a boy. She gets beat up by the school bully (Billy “Cobra Kai” Zabka), avoids gym class and fights off advances from an amorous female schoolmate (lucky girl Sherilynn Fenn). There are some easy laughs - “Cute shoes,” she quips while incognito as she and Rick gaze longingly at a classmate - and some that actually mine creative territory. The best example is her relationship with Rick, as she pretends to be his part-time bro, then dashes home to change outfits and hide her assignment from her boyfriend.
Naturally, there’s a scene where Rick thinks Terry is actually gay, which comes later in the film than you’d expect and could have been mined for bigger laughs. Instead, the film awkwardly dances around the possibility, not really sure how to depict Terry’s affection for Rick. The script comes up with some unintentionally laughable moments. Note to the writers: Bros don’t make sandwiches for each other, no matter how close they are.
This breaks one of the two rules that we see on a chalkboard when Terry is in her journalism class: “Be accurate” and “Be interesting.” Thankfully, Just One of the Guys only breaks that first rule.
Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.