Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Overlook: So Fine

by JB
Meh. More like “so-so.”

The various artists involved in the making of So Fine are not playing at the top of their games. Writer/director Andrew Bergman did better work on Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974) and his own The In-Laws (1979). Star Ryan O’Neal, while hampered by a lack of talent throughout his career, turned in better comedic performances in What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), and Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987), though I’m still not sure if either O’Neal or writer/director Norman Mailer knew they were making a comedy on that last one. Mariangela Melato had done far superior work in Lina Wertmuller’s The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), and Swept Away (1974).

Richard Kiel had, by 1981, already given the two signature performances for which he would be best remembered: Jaws in the James Bond adventures The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Perennial character actor Jack Warden had by this time given dozens of better performances in dozens of better films, including From Here To Eternity (1953), Twelve Angry Men (1957), Shampoo (1975), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Being There (1979) and Used Cars (1980). Composer Ennio Morricone has scored over 500 movies and television shows, and his disco-inspired score for So Fine is worlds away from his iconic work with Sergio Leone on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

So Fine is that job you take right out of college while you are waiting for a better job to come your way.
The Plot In Brief: Bobby Fine (Ryan O’Neal) has a problem. He is up for a full professorship at the small liberal arts college where he teaches American Literature (back when that used to be a thing.) Yet his father Jack (Jack Warden) has a clothing business in bankruptcy. Jack owes a lot of money to mob figure Mister Eddie (Richard Kiel), who wants Bobby to join the family business to help save it. Mister Eddie’s wife Lira (Mariangela Melato) meets Bobby and instantly falls in love with him.

When Mr. Eddie almost catches the two together, Bobby hurriedly escapes Lira’s apartment wearing Lira’s tiny jeans. The jeans soon rip, and Bobby grabs some see-through plastic to literally cover his ass. Seeking shelter in his father’s office, the other fashion buyers notice the jeans and a new fashion sensation is born. (This is all just about as labored in the movie as it sounds on the page.) The film’s climax comes during a production of Shakespeare’s Othello at Bobby’s college, obviously. Murderous hijinks ensue.

If that little summary does not do the film justice, here’s the original trailer:

In short, babies, the only thing that So Fine aspires to is what I believe most ordinary people want out of most ordinary movies: about two hours of mindless pleasure. This movie is something to watch and then forget. I’m betting that those who have seen it vaguely remember it as “that ass-less jeans movie,” but only two weeks after seeing it again, I couldn’t even remember the Othello spoof climax. So Fine exists as a harbinger of the streaming movies of the 21st century—films that exist only to take your money and time… and then disappear.
Don’t get me wrong: I found parts of this movie funny. There are a few good jokes. I’ve always thought Mariangela Mulato speaking English sounds like Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle, which I dig (don’t judge me.) Her bedroom farce scenes with Ryan O’Neal have a crazy energy to them. Her first line in the film is, “I fool avound.”

And make no mistake—So Fine is very much of its time, which is sort of interesting. It has cheap-looking disco sets and that flat, gritty, New-York-in-the-1980s look. It reminds us that Ryan O’Neal was somehow once a pretty big movie star (and those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.)

But here is the main reason that I am glad that I saw So Fine again after all these years: I now have an “anchor film” by which to judge every other movie I will ever see. I am not joking. I now have a film that literally defines “average” and “mediocre.” So Fine is not a bad film, and it is not a mess. It’s just not much of anything. It defines the “middle of the road.” So from now on, if a movie is better than So Fine, it’s a good and possibly great movie. If the movie is worse than So Fine, it is a bad and perhaps terrible movie.
One needs to have standards. I’m pretty sure this one will work with comedies (because that’s what So Fine is trying to be) but I doubt it will work as a similar anchor for drama. Would one of my readers like to suggest THE dramatic film that we can use as a similar yardstick?

Our own Patrick Bromley is famous for saying that movies other people like but that didn’t do much for him are “…fine.” From now on, when folks ask me about a film that I find squarely middle-of-the-road, I will smile confidently and say it was “…SO fine.”

So Fine is available as a MOD DVD title courtesy of the fine folks at Warner Archive Entertainment.


  1. Thanks for the term "anchor movie." I've had a film that has filled that function for me for years, but I never had a good term for it (the movie: "Ladder 49" with John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix).

    1. Just wait for tomorrow's podcast!

    2. Ever since I saw it 2 years ago (or whatever), I've been judging the quality of movies by "Is this better or worse than Thor: The Dark World?" A movie so painfully average and mediocre, it's hard to think of a single thing that's exceptional or below-average. It's good to finally have a term for it.

    3. I am now serxhing my brain for a good anchor movie for drama... something to make my work hours more interesting tomorrow I think!

    4. Searching. Darn kindle vs thumbs

  2. I've finally realized who Ryan Reynolds looks like; he looks like Ryan O'Neal in that first photo.

  3. It's uncanny. Could Reynolds be the secret love child of O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett?