Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: April 12, 1985
Directed by: Alan Metter
Stars: 3 out of 5
Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a teenager who has spent her entire life dragged from one city to another all over the world by her father, Col. Glenn (Ed Lauter), whose military service has required many moves. Now, the colonel has finally retired and decided to settle in a quaint Chicago suburb where he can raise his kids to have a semblance of a normal life. Janey doesn’t want normal though. She wants to be a dancer, and she spends most of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” going from one madcap situation to another to achieve that goal.
Because she has moved countless times, Janey has never truly had a chance to make friends. This changes when she meets Lynne Stone (Helen Hunt) on her first day at her strict new Catholic school. Lynne is the school rebel, and she becomes a major influence on Janey, who does not disobey her parents. When Janey confesses her dream of winning a television dance competition in Chicago, Lynne thinks she should go for it. Janey has the talent and the looks; all she lacks is the colonel’s permission, which she does not get. After much cajoling, Lynne convinces her to defy her father and go after her dream.
It turns out that her father isn’t the only thing standing in the way of Janey’s dream. The television program with the dance competition is rigged, and smug rich girl Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier) makes Janey’s life difficult. Natalie not only wants to win, she also likes Jeff Malene (Lee Montgomery), a hotshot local dancer who Janey also has a crush on. Suddenly, the two girls become bitter rivals in trying to win the rigged contest somehow while also capturing Jeff’s heart. All of this happens right about the time the colonel gets wind of his daughter’s extracurricular activities. Janey may not get the chance to win the contest or Jeff’s heart if her dad stops her, so she hatches a plan to win the contest, Jeff’s heart, and her father’s permission all at once, with the help of her new best friend Lynne, of course
Films such as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” were common in the eighties, so they all had to have something to help them stand out from the crowd. In this case, it was the frequent dance numbers that help the audience understand that Janey isn’t just a girl who dreams of becoming a dancer one day; she really is a bona fide dancer who has a legitimate chance of winning this contest. Viewers could really see her one day becoming a professional dancer, and a successful one at that. The dance numbers help spruce up what would otherwise be a very basic film with an overly familiar plot. This is as much a musical as it is a comedy, though it was largely billed as a comedy because musicals were not extraordinarily popular when the film was initially released.
The other big thing that will draw people into seeing this film is the fact that it highlights Hunt and Parker when they were still fresh-faced acting newbies. Neither one had achieved a great deal of success at that point, and were only marginally well known by the general public. Their inexperience does show in a few scenes, but it actually helps make them more believable in their roles. In the grand Hollywood tradition of casting adults as teenagers, both women were in their twenties but playing girls in high school who were still going through puberty. Their general awkwardness at being in the spotlight helps make them seem younger and allows for the audience buy them as teenagers. It’s also fun nearly twenty years later to see both women as they were beginning to blossom, and before they became Oscar winners or fashion icons.
The movie feels very much like an eighties movie, but the fact that it is dated works in its favor now that it is available on home video. People who grew up in the eighties or had teens during that era will listen to the soundtrack from the dance numbers and feel a sharp twinge of nostalgia. The clothes are fun to look at, even if some of them are completely over-the-top in color and shape. The nostalgia factor and seeing Hunt and Parker before they made it big are the biggest selling points of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and make the film worthy of a home viewing.