Who’s That Girl

Who's That GirlSynopsis: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Bus Station

Four years unjustly jailed haven’t dampened the spirits or determination of Nikki Finn. The spunky parolee sets out to clear her name – and sets the Big Apple spinning in deliriously funny ways.

The music/movie superstar displays kicky comic flair and sings four terrific soundtrack tunes (“Causing a Commotion”, “The Look of Love”, “Can’t Stop” and the title song). Griffin Dunne co-stars as an uptight, soon-to-wed attorney whose mild lifestyle swerves into the path of uproarious oncoming traffic courtesy of Nikki. This frisky caper proves screwball comedy is alive and swell.

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Who’s That Girl 5.25

eyelights: Madonna.
eyesores: Madonna.

“Just tell me, I won’t be upset. I really just want to know. Are you the Anti-Christ? You can tell me, really. I won’t be mad. You are, aren’t you?”

In the matter of just a few short years, Madonna had taken over pop culture by storm: she was everywhere, on the radio, on the television, in concert halls, at high profile events, in magazines, on posters, on shirts, and even on the big screen. It seemed as though she was on top of the world.

However, although Madonna had conquered the box office with ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘, she tore up her tix to the big time by releasing the execrable ‘Shanghai Surprise‘ – and then following it up with ‘Who’s That Girl’, a 1987 screwball comedy that pretty much put the kibosh on her acting career.

While she would return to the big screen more times than anyone would care to remember, any goodwill that she had garnered was forever squandered after ‘Shanghai’ and confirmed after “Who’s That Girl’ died a quick death at the box office. Had it been a success, perhaps things would have been different.

But it wasn’t. And her acting career, to paraphrase a most common idiom, was history.

By that point in her musical career, Madonna had notched massive hits with her self-titled debut, ‘Like a Virgin’ and the recently-released ‘True Blue’, which brought with it the first of many dramatic stylistic changes for the pop diva. She not only looked different, she went for a more mature audience.

The same could be said for ‘Who’s That Girl’, which finds Madonna traipsing in a comedy genre that was mostly foreign to young audiences and largely forgotten by the masses. With this in mind, she took on a personage that was largely influenced by post-war comedy icons and transposed it to the ’80s.

With her short blonde hair and a nasally cartoon voice mixed with a Bronx accent, the material girl was nearly unrecognizable (she even concealed her “assets”!). She also managed to deliver a credible performance, something that no one could have expected. Who in the world was that girl?

Because, yes, Madonna performed well in ‘Who’s That Girl’. The problem isn’t her performance, it’s the character: Nikki Finn is a walking cartoon, a creation that is cutesy but rather annoying: she’s insane, erratic, wild. But, naturally, one would naturally come out of the picture disliking Madonna, not Nikki.

Also inspired by ’50s and ’60s pictures, ‘Who’s That Girl’ begins with an animated credit that plays to Madonna’s song “Causing a Commotion” (one of four new songs of hers in the film), and featuring a cartoon Madonna being chased by cops and criminals. It’s low-budget but not at all bad.

The rest of the picture plays like an ADD-addled mixture of bubble gum and grit, with Nikki being released from jail on parole after four years for a crime she claims she didn’t commit. Meanwhile, a young lawyer is charged by a wealthy real estate tycoon with ensuring that Nikki gets on the bus home.

While the tycoon’s motives remain unclear until the very end, the young lawyer is trying to stay on his good side, given that he’s marrying his daughter the next day. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, he’s not at all ready for Nikki’s random behaviour and winds up caught in a series of misadventures.

Oh, and naturally, he and Nikki fall in love.

‘Who’s That Girl’ certainly doesn’t steer clear of clichés, but it’s not an entirely bad picture – it’s not as unwatchable as ‘Shanghai Surprise’. In fact, it’s rather serviceable for the genre, and I was surprised to find out that Ken Finkleman (of the vastly under-rated ‘Airplane II‘ was the script’s co-author.

Still, it’s not great either.

Neither the script or direction are entirely successful, to the extent that I didn’t find the wrap-up clear (What was she framed for? How was the dad involved?). Throw in some lackluster Madonna tracks (from possibly my least favourite era of hers musically and stylistically) and it’s pretty forgettable stuff.

‘Who’s That Girl’ is one of those movies that at best might have been considered a cult classic – if Madonna hadn’t been attached to it: it’s zany, it’s random and it has a few good gags. In fact, I’m surprised that it hasn’t developed some minor form of following instead of being buried as it is.

Maybe someday. But I highly doubt it.

Date of viewing: June 15, 2015

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