Friday, March 8, 2019

Glutton for Punishment: WILLY/MILLY (aka SOMETHING SPECIAL)

by JB
No look at the movies of 1986 would be complete without a shout out to this… curiosity…which exists to show that ANY movie made in 1986 could actually rate a FULL THEATRICAL RELEASE!

One thing I miss from 1986 is second-run theaters, which all eventually closed because of videotape rentals, rising rents in strip malls, the ubiquity of premium cable channels, the rapidly shrinking theatrical-to-VOD window, and inexpensive streaming services like Netflix. The fact that modern youngsters just don’t go to the movies as often as a previous generation did certainly doesn’t help the equation. I especially miss the Barrington Square 6, a local multiplex that showed movies slightly past their shelf date for the princely sum of ONE DOLLAR a ticket. The Barrington Square Mall became a big hangout for local suburban high-school kids with nothing better to do. Around sundown, they would “cruise” the mall’s parking lot, eventually forming an enormous ouroboros of cars driving in an infinite loop that sounded like Van Halen and smelled like Garibaldi’s Pizza. Having never participated in this ritual, I still have no idea how new cars joined the snake or old cars peeled off upon their driver’s looming curfews.

It was at the Barrington Square 6 that I attended a theatrical screening of 1986 curiosity Willy/Milly, though the print had by then been re-titled Something Special. I have read that the film was also exhibited under the title of I Was A Teenage Boy. I wonder if any poor sap was ever tricked into seeing it three times, once under each title. Trust me, once is enough!
The Plot in Brief: Milly (Pamela Segall) is a high-spirited 14-year-old girl interested in astronomy. She often wishes that she were a boy so that people (especially her father) would take her more seriously. One day during a solar eclipse, Milly takes advantage of an ancient ritual and has her wish is fulfilled. The next morning she wakes up with a brand new penis. “Willy” is born.

Milly’s parents (John Glover, overacting, and Patty Duke, underacting) cut her hair, buy her a new wardrobe, and register her at a new high school. Willy meets the wheelchair-bound Alfie (Eric Gurry) and his posse of friends. Willy runs afoul of school bully Harry (Jeb Ellis-Brown) and his posse of sociopaths. Harry’s sister Cynthia (Taryn Grimes) quickly develops the hots for Willy. How on earth will this Shakespearian farce ever be resolved?
You have to give the cast here an “A” for effort—the performances in Willy/Milly are so much better than the material deserves. Patty Duke tries hard, but isn’t given much to work with. When this film’s slow pace and bad direction threatened to put me to sleep, I would yell out “FEATURING OSCAR WINNER PATTY DUKE” to keep myself awake. John Glover, who played Daniel Clamp in Gremlins 2 and Brice Cummings in Scrooged, is agreeably manic here, driving home what little the script has to say about 1980s-era (era) toxic masculinity. Eric Gurry appears at the end of his brief career; Willy/Milly is his last screen credit (he’s probably most famous for playing Al Pacino’s precocious son Igor in Author! Author!) A grade-school aged Seth Green appears as garage-sale wizard Malcolm; this was only his second screen role after playing little brother Egg in The Hotel New Hampshire. Here, he is only a year away from playing a young Woody Allen in Radio Days, and eleven years before playing Scott Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Seth Green defines a “working actor”—in 35 years, he has racked up an impressive 135 screen and television credits. He even played Christopher Guest in the recent Doug Kenny biopic, A Stupid and Futile Gesture.
The real standout of the cast is its lead, Pamela Segall, who plays both Milly and Willy (and was actually 20 when she made this movie). She is game and engaging and cute and embodies the old thespian motto, “Play well your part; in that all honor lies.” She has had an epic career encompassing 192 television and screen credits, mostly for cartoon voice-over work.

The biggest surprise? You might know her better as Pamela Adlon, who did the voice of Bobby on King of the Hill for 13 years and 258 episodes. Her sitcom Better Things is about to begin its third season on the FX Network (it’s currently one of the best things on television.) Watch Adlon discuss Willy/Milly on an episode of The Conan O’Brian Show:

The problem with Willy/Milly is that its reach exceeds its grasp. It’s trying to be funny and fails miserably. It tries to say something pithy about gender roles but (ahem) doesn’t have the balls. It aspires to be a Shakespearian romantic farce like Twelfth Night or As You Like It, and suffice it to say, it ain’t Shakespeare. The direction is amateurish. The sets look cobbled together in the producer’s backyard. It’s odd how long and slow this movie feels, considering that each scene feels somehow too short, and that combination really kills the comedy. The script seems like an ABC After-School Special… but with swears. The cinematography is ugly. The editing seems to follow the precept that every scene should contain precisely one joke; once that joke is delivered, the audience is promptly taken to the next scene. Willy/Milly is like a ride on a faulty roller coaster that some bribed local inspector never legally certified.

But if you’re a fan of Pamela Adlon, or Patty Duke, or watered-down gender politics, or teen romances, or solar eclipses, or movies about girls with penises that AREN’T Sleepaway Camp… what the heck, give Willy/Milly a shot. You can all watch it for free on the YouTube!


  1. Once you mentioned Pamela Adlon, I added it to my must-see list. I didn't even know this movie existed!

  2. Pamela Adlon? Damn it, now I have to watch this mess. Curse you!