Kind hearts, big friendship and a love of snacks and dancing made David Mirkin’s 1997 comedy a solid fave. Does it still do it for Ashley Davies 20 years on? Let’s fold scarves!
What and why: Nineteen ninety-seven was quite the year for cute high school reunion movies. While John Cusack’s brooding hitman was returning to his home town in Grosse Pointe Blank, mired in a swoon-worthily handsome existential crisis, Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, as Romy White and Michele Weinberger, were on their way back to Tucson, spinning a ridiculous lie in a bid to impress the school bullies.
Romy and Michele, the latter in particular, are not very bright. They’re not what the world might regard as very successful (though apparently having both their beds in their lounge makes it possible for them to afford a beachfront apartment in Venice Beach, so that’s cool). But what these 28-year-olds do have is a powerful friendship, kind hearts and a shared love of devouring snacks and going dancing, while dressed like Barbies in clothes sewn by Michele.
They’re both perfectly satisfied with their existence until they discover there’s a high school reunion coming up, and are prompted to re-evaluate their adolescent experiences and reassess what they’ve done with their lives. The traditional markers of success – boyfriends and good jobs – are absent, so there’s a brief and unsuccessful attempt to address this before the reunion.
On the way to Tucson it occurs to them that they can simply pretend to be successful businesswomen, and decide to claim that they invented Post-it notes. Unsurprisingly, this aspect of their trip doesn’t go well. Usually inseparable, they have a silly fight along the way, then make up to unite against the arseholes.
“As well as being about friendship, this film is about how pretty much everyone feels they’re not good enough at school, either because of the way they look, how they are treated or whether they’re in the right group.”
Romy gets a chance to rethink her feelings about the jock she had a crush on at school, and a former geek, Sandy Frink (played by Alan Cumming), finally has his love for Michele requited, thanks to him being super-rich and successful (this is a problematic aspect of the plot but I’m going to let it slide).
Rated or dated: Oh man, I love this film. Forgive me, but I’m going to have to make a list of some of the things I adore about it.
1. Sorvino’s comic acting skills are completely superb. The Bill and Ted-esque voice she deploys when her character is trying to sound smart or sexy is so beautifully observed, she almost sounds like a pubescent boy. When she shallowly decides she has to reject a guy in a club because he doesn’t have an impressive enough job, her delivery of the line, “Will you excuse me, I cut my foot before and my shoe is filling with blood”, is ridiculously cute.
2. Kudrow – while not demonstrating a range all that far from Friends’ Phoebe – is great at acting like something very basic and obvious is an amazing, wonderful coincidence. For example, when Romy says: “Oh my Gaahd, I hate throwing up in public,” Michele’s surprised and delighted response is: “Me too!”
3. Janeane Garofolo’s in it and she’s divine. (Considering how much I like her I really should learn how to pronounce at least one of her names, right?) Her character, Heather Mooney, was bullied and ignored at school, and never lost her enthusiasm for tobacco over the years.
In fact, now she’s loaded because she invented quick-burning cigarette paper. “Ever heard of Ladyfair cigarettes?” “The ones that burn down real fast?” “Twice the taste in half the time for the gal on the go.”
4. Justin Theroux has a tiny part in it and he’s too beautiful for words. Heather gets to snog him at the reunion after he apologises for being a dick at school. He was shy, you see, and needed to hide his stammer.
5. Romy and Michele’s friendship is all-enduring. They were mocked at school for having their yearbook photo taken together, and were the only ones in Madonna-inspired outfits against a sea of pastel at the prom.
6. Like all best friends should, they have perfected some daft dance routines, always performed with straight faces. The final, clunky balletic number performed with Sandy to Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time is a joy to behold.
8. Michele’s jewellery always looks like fruity sweets that I want to put in my mouth (for me, this is the ultimate test of whether jewels are of tip-top quality).
9. As well as being about friendship, this film is about how pretty much everyone (apart from the arseholes) feels they’re not good enough at school, either because of the way they look, how they are treated or whether they’re in the right group. It’s a sweet and gentle reminder that nearly everyone is bullied, and the perpetrators will often get their comeuppance.
Unfortunately, there remains an element of cruelty in the film, with a suggestion that there are some people who deserve to be bullied by everyone, that that’s just their lot in life but it’s OK because we don’t really know them. Hmmm.
10. Romy’s final speech to the horrible leader of A Group girls is, I’m sure, the “fuck you” fantasy that many people wish they could deliver to the less pleasant people from school:
“What the hell is your problem, Christie? Why are you always such a nasty bitch? Do you get some kind of sick pleasure from torturing other people? I mean yes, OK, Michele and I did make up a lame story but we only did it because we wanted you to treat us like human beings. But you know what I’ve finally realised? I don’t care if you like us, because we don’t like you. You’re a bad person with an ugly heart and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think.”
Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.