Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Glutton for Punishment: JUST ONE OF THE GUYS

by JB and Jan Bottiglieri
JB and Jan take a fresh look at this 80’s cable staple.

JB: Well, Jan, what did you think of Just One of the Guys?

JAN: Wow, that's a pretty lazy opening volley, Darling. I would have expected more from someone who does so much around here, including most of the cooking.

WAIT -- I get it! You're trying to get me to re-think our assumptions about gender roles in society and relationships. You're also allowing space in the discussion for a female voice not only to be heard, but to lead. A brilliant way to kick off this conversation about Just One of the Guys, a 1985 comedy that asks (and answers) the hilarious question, "what if a GIRL was just one of the GUYS?"
I think this movie is a lot of fun. Joyce Hyser is solid as Terry Griffith, a high-school journalist who thinks she's getting shut out of an internship opportunity because she's a girl. Her "transformation" into a boy is better than a lot of movies like this can do -- I actually believe someone might think "short-haired Terry" is really a 16-year-old boy. Billy Jayne (as Billy Jacoby) delivers a goofy, kinetic energy as Terry's sex-obsessed little brother. Often in teen comedies the brother and sister kind of hate each other; I like their relationship here, which is definitely friendlier and more complicated than that. In fact, I think all of the performances are good, and help round out the characters in a way that the script alone does not.

As a self-actualized woman, I do not let your opinions determine mine; however, as a supportive life-partner, I seek and respect your opinions, particularly in your areas of specialized knowledge. So, what did YOU think of Just One of the Guys?

JB: Well, Jan, given the plot and theme of the movie under discussion here, I did not want to make the mistake of jumping in before YOU had a chance to weigh in, and start MANSPLAINING all over the place.
Based on our shared viewing, I think you liked it a little more than I did, though it was better than I remembered. It plays its "mistaken identities" farce plot correctly, with a nice mix of characters who have no idea what is really going on and a few characters who are in the know and play both sides of the fence. The big reveal at the end of the film at prom is handled magnificently. I agree that Billy Jacoby is one of the film's major assets. He does have a goofy charm that's infectious. His horniness is always funny and never skeevy. On the commentary that accompanies the new Sony Blu-ray, Hyser recalls that it was impossible not to laugh and ruin takes when playing a scene with him. I commented as we watched that most of his lines seem like they were written for Bill Murray, but Jacoby gives them a nice spin by not delivering them like Bill Murray. The whole enterprise seems to rest on Joyce Hyser's shoulders, and she does a great job. I thought it a bit leering when the camera lingers on her bikini-clad form near the film's start, as if the filmmakers want to be sure the audience knows THAT SHE IS INDEED A GIRL.

I remember this film playing endlessly on cable in the 1990s, and between the multiple centerfolds on Jacoby's bedroom walls and the now-famous naked gender reveal at the film's conclusion, the producers seemed to be pushing the envelope on how much they could "get away with" in a PG-13 rated film. I guess Hyser revealing her formidable charms was okayed by the MPAA because it's presented non-sexually and is critical to the plot. I did notice in the bonus features that Jacoby's bedroom walls were given a dose of digital haze in the film's theatrical trailer. On basic cable, Jacoby's walls are always occluded, which might lead some imaginative viewers to think, given his characters perpetual horniness, that his walls are actually covered in jizz.

As a strong, sure, smart modern woman, what did you think of the film's gender politics? Could you tell this film was co-written and directed by a woman?
JAN: That's an interesting question. At one point while we were watching, I started to say, "What makes this movie's take on gender interesting is..." but stopped myself by shouting "SAVE IT FOR THE COLUMN!" Sorry -- I know it annoys you when I shout things out while we're watching movies together, unless it's Columbo, when we both enjoy shouting out "OH, ONE MORE THING...!"

So: What makes this movie's take on gender interesting is that I can tell it was directed by a woman. That bikini shot is a great example. The way it's voyeuristically filmed from behind and literally caresses the curves of Terry's body -- to me, that felt like a nod to the tropes of '80s teen comedies, a “winkety-wink” setting us up for a twist. I felt the same way about the opening shot of Terry waking up in just lacey panties and a camisole; it's as if Lisa Gottlieb is getting the objectification out of the way, playing into our expectations and tricking us into expecting more of the usual. If this were a typical ‘80s teen comedy, we'd get those same shots, but the entire story would be told through Buddy's eyes, and Terry's story would be a sub-plot. Instead, surprise! The girl is the star here. She's not on display at the Sig Chi Spring Fling -- she's waking up alone, or relaxing at home with her brother. We're the only ones leering. You want "lots of boobies!" in your '80s teen comedy? This film delivers, but they're all 2-dimensional cut-outs plastered across the goofy virgin's wall.

In Just One of the Guys, we get only one glorious money shot of Joyce Hyser's breasts… Yes, those aren't "boobies," they're her BREASTS... but does she bust 'em out (pun INTENDED, tyvm) for some sexy time? Nope. She bares her chest because she's so frustrated when the boy she loves Will. Not. Listen. To. Her. She's owning the moment. I love that scene because it's very powerful, but also very funny in both a traditional and a kind of "meta" way. I think all of that comes from a level of understanding, empathy, and humor that Gottlieb brings as a female writer/director.
And speaking of that goofy virgin: as I said, I think a more typical movie would center on Buddy getting laid, and it would be called Buddy Gets Laid, and the "happy ending" (I am full of the puns today) would be that Buddy Gets Laid. In Just One of the Guys, that arc is only the sub-plot. Again, the women's desires move the action: Sandy (Sherilyn Fenn) shows up to seduce Terry and instead of rejecting Sandy outright, Terry passes the information to Buddy. No one is "used" and everyone gets what they want. The fact that Terry ends up with the guy she likes is a coda; the real climax (Hahaha-- I crack myself up) of this film is that Terry earns that sweet internship. To get the thing she wants, Terry doesn't need to land the guy or win the prom or do any of the typical teen movie things; she needs to become a better journalist, which is the part of herself that she values the most.

Now that I think about it, maybe another reason I connect with Just One of the Guys is that I am a brown-haired, often-misgendered female journalist.

JB: Misgendered? Wait... what?

No discussion of Just One of the Guys would be complete without some mention made of Terry's hangdog journalism teacher, Mr. Raymaker (Kenneth Tigar), who initiates the plot when he has the utter temerity to suggest that Terry's original article on nutritious cafeteria lunches... lacks interest. Most teen comedies would be content scoring some cheap laughs off this loser ("I'll be in my office eating a tuna-fish sandwich.") but again, Just One of the Guys takes a different tactic and goes out of its way to show us... that this guy is right! When Terry makes her (incredibly quick) transfer to the other school, her new journalism teacher tells her the exact same thing! (Gosh, Terry… Maybe "the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.") Once the film's farce plot has been played out and the deception is revealed, we go back to Mr. Raymaker, and Tigar uses all of his method acting skills in a scene (that belongs in another movie) where he almost tearfully confesses to Terry that he misjudged her on the basis of her gender and that he has certainly learned something here.

BUT HERE'S THE PROBLEM: The film suggests that the article Terry winds up writing (about her experiences as a “boy”) is superior to her original cafeteria exposé. The second journalism teacher confirmed that the first article was no great shakes. So how did Sadness Man misjudge her if a) the original article was bad and b) it was only him telling her it was bad that started her on a path to being a better journalist? The mind boggles. The way Kenneth Tigar plays him, I feared Mr. Raymaker’s final scene would show him hanging from a rope in the teacher's lounge.

I do agree a lesser movie would have pitched that scene to make Mr. Raymaker the butt of some joke, or reduce his remaining screen time to a three-second cutaway of Mr. Raymaker smiling wide and shouting, "YOU WON!" I guess as a former teacher I just can't understand why he is so goddamned sad at the end. Kind of like how I am sad now because I have enjoyed talking about this film with you, and we're almost done.
JAN: I am sad that you have bent the focus of this movie, and this article, back onto a man. HAVE YOU NOT BEEN READING MY WORDS?

JK, Babe. I get what you’re saying about Raymaker. I think the misjudgment is more of the “she’s just a girl, I won’t expect more from her” variety. When she accepts the criticism and goes to such great lengths to make a better article, she exceeds his expectations—you know, like a BOY might. Frankly, that’s a type of sexism that may be way more obvious to me (having experienced it) than it is to you—it’s under the radar of even the person enacting it. Still, that seems like a pretty minor plot point to me. Again, I think it may be another benefit of the female director’s perspective: to recognize that “soft” sexism as well as the obvious type, and to ask “wouldn’t it be nice to show a man who is manly enough to apologize to a girl for selling her short?”

I wish our readers could have eavesdropped on our fun patio conversation yesterday when we chatted at length about other gender-switch comedies, including Tootsie, Victor/Victoria, and Mrs. Doubtfire. So many gender-benders! And yet the only one I find mentioned on FTM is Sleepaway Camp. (Note to editor: feel free to redact if that’s a spoiler for Sleepaway Camp.)

I’ve loved watching and discussing movies with you for the past week in this column, Johnny, and for the past 35 years in our life. Hey, readers – does anyone want to challenge us to another column? Comment below!

Now, Darling: What’s for dinner?


  1. I also remember this movie as part of the William Zabka '80s trilogy of villainy, which also includes "The Karate Kid" (1984) and "Back to School" (1986).

  2. I think Raymaker was apologizing not for saying her article was boring, but for saying she should consider a different career and maybe become a model. It was the "you could be a model" comment that seemed to miff Terri the most.