Speaking of sad, the theme for BMM this time around is Sorry Singers On Screen, celebrating the pop stars that don't shine as brightly in the movie spotlight. I've decided to go ladies first here, so let's start with 1987's Who's That Girl, starring Madonna, our lady of the fabulous film flops.
She plays Nikki Finn, a whimsical thief who is just getting out of jail after spending four years behind bars after being framed for the murder of her boyfriend. That back story is quickly told in animated style during the opening credits, with Madonna being turned into a Betty Boop meets Marilyn Monroe cartoon character. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn't as well written or as believable as this animation sequence is:
Upon leaving jail, Nikki is met by Louden Trott(Griffin Dunne), a lawyer about to marry the boss's daughter,Wendy. At the request of his soon to be father in law, Louden plans to take Nikki to the bus station and make sure she gets on the next bus to Philly,as per the conditions of her parole.
Of course, things do not go as planned and Nikki leads Louden down a supposedly merry path of destruction in her quest to clear her name. Along for the ride is a rare cougar that Louden has to deliver to a eccentric client that Nikki names Murray,who takes an instant liking to her and conveniently arrives to get her out of many a jam whenever Nikki lets out a two fingered whistle.
Considering that this is a reality where leaving the state of your incarceration is part of a parole for a convicted murderer and that hiring a professional to move a dangerous animal would be something a smart lawyer could easily do but hand delivering one in the back seat of your new mother-in-law's Rolls Royce is a better choice,Murray's obedience to Nikki is least contrived of the plot points.
The problem with that is that it helps if you are naturally funny and Madonna is not. True, she has been humorous in small roles like A League of Their Own but the key to that is the size of the part.
She does best when given acting jobs that don't require her to be anything more than herself or a music video persona. Desperately Seeking Susan, the movie she made her first mainstream mark on, didn't rely on her to take center stage which worked well for all concerned and even in Dick Tracy, she made a perfectly suitable cartoonish vamp. When it comes to being a leading lady, however, the limits of her acting ability are more revealing than a wet t-shirt.
Nikki Finn is supposed to be a lovable scamp, a sweet yet sneaky troublemaker fashioned after a 1930s screwball comedy heroine. Madonna prancing around in boringly bad outfits and talking like a third rate Judy Holliday impersonator doesn't fit the bill. She's as appealing in this performance as Donald Trump would be as an English gentleman on Downton Abbey:
To be fair, the script does no one any favors here, as most of the jokes are horribly mundane. For example, I think the only reason Dunne's character was named Louden was to make room for a gag that got him falsely named Louden Clear(a punishment worthy of the pun-itentiary) .
A hallmark of those classic screwball comedies was witty dialogue and this film shows no evidence of even knowing what that is. I pity poor Griffin Dunne, who can be a good straight man in comedies, who had to work with lines like "We did one of your things already. We murdered the pimp and the fat man. Now it's time to do one of MY things." Too bad, so sad.
The romance between Nikki and Louden is just as awkward, when all of a sudden, she finds a fancy dress and pours champagne and pow, all of the misery that Nikki put Louden through is forgiven! Never mind his fiancee(who is given a running gag about her lust for taxi cab drivers that is never fully developed), Louden is head over heels in love. I'm sorry but the chemistry between Nikki and Murray is more convincing(in a non-furry way,people!) than that:
In addition to having the title song as well as "Causing a Commotion" becoming hits on the singles charts, she had a successful world concert tour based on the movie's music and even received a Razzie award as Worst Actress that year for W'sTG.
So for Madonna, this movie was all winner-winner-chicken-dinner. For the audience,however, Who's That Girl was more like the aftermath of chicken feed.
Tune in next time at Bad Movie Month, for a look at our Sister's Choice selection(in honor of my sister Stephanie, whose birthday occurs this month) and in the mean time, here is Madonna's official video for the title track, which shows just how fast she separated herself from that poorly played role. Just like any good chameleon, Madonna knows when to change her persona to fit the times although her knack for that hasn't been as good as it used to be these days: