Friday, June 22, 2012

Ten Statements About....RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS (1994)

"Back off!  You may not realize this now, but the girl behind
me is going to be a comedy star in about fifteen years!"
"We should actually do this more often."
"What--get pregnant or steal a car?"

1) Dear Joe Dante--we get that this is set in the 50's, and you really dig the time period. We don't need to be reminded of that fact every five minutes.

2) Julie Bowen is one of those actors who seemed to need a couple of years to grow into her face. This is one of her first feature roles (albeit one made for Showtime as part of that weird package where Miramax took the names of famous American International films, gave them to popular film directors and asked them to build new movies around them), and the baby fat on her 24 year old form conceals the angularity that gives her a talent for physical comedy as she gets older. It also doesn't help that she should be playing Jenny Lewis' tough girl part, as her attempt at being the good girl who wants to be baaaad doesn't quite come off right.

3) I really wonder about Dick Miller's Roy Farrell. Miller plays the private eye extremely straight--and does so so well I almost regret his never having the chance to play serious roles in his later years. But the scenes themselves seem to play out as parodies. This creates a weird sense that Farrell is the only person who knows what's going on, which works in the context of the film...but I wonder if it would be more effective if Miller and Dante were on the same page.

"I get it...META!"
4) Seriously...did people really talk like this in the 50's, namechecking so many significant historical elements in that casual-but-not-really way? Maybe it's the actors involved, but some of these scene come off as so artificial it's wingeworthy, especially when Chris Young's Bob seduces Holly Field's Mary by feeding her a line about Sputnik. I've always heard stories similar to this (the incident involved was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, but the rest of it is unchanged), but wondered if they were apocryphal. So much of this film is composed of dialogue like this that seems written, and written by someone whose view of the 50's is filtered through 70's filtered nostalgia.

5) There's this very weird moment toward the end of the film where, after pretty much everything in the film is played for hijinks more or less, two men get accidentally slaughtered. And it gets even weirder when, after we've absorbed the fact that two friendly men who were helping our heroines have been shot, we're then treated to a scene of those same three girls whooping and hollering with joy because they find out the murdered men weren't killed because they were mistaken for kidnappers, but because they were actually 'mad dog killers'....what. the. fuck.

6) While some of the cameos are exceptionally, muggably silly (I think John Astin is a swell actor, but I can do without him literally bugging his eyes and chewing on his mustache while accusing our heroines of being communists), one I did enjoy was Cathy Moriarity's Marie. Whereas so many of the cameo performers here tend to head immediately for over-the-top territory, Moriarity underplays it and gives us a sensitive performance that makes you realize that she genuinely loves the goof we saw a few minutes before and sees herself as the guiding hand--allowing her husband to do what he wishes while gently steering him away from dangerous behavior. It's a wonderful scene, and one that drives home what a good actress Moriarity was.

"I thought I heard someone speaking French over there...
7) With the exception of Moriarity and Miller, the adults in this movie are thunderingly stupid. I know this is a commentary on how the parents behaved in those American International pictures, but given how so much of the film is couched in a realistic tone, the idiocy of the adult characters just doesn't make sense.

8) You'll notice I haven't brought up the big 'guy who would go on to be great' role...namely Paul Rudd's turn as Bowen's boyfriend. The weirdest thing about Rudd, who is very clearly a generic rebel without a clue, is how he seems to have wandered in from the western flick shooting across the street.

9) This is a very top heavy script by Charlie Haas. Once our heroic trio is on the road, the film gets very episodic (the girls are almost raped by idiotic deputies! The girls steal a car! The girls have to negotiate with a creepy fat guy to get a replacement car! The girls encounter survivalists!)....until everyone realizes they've only got a small handful of minutes left, resulting in an ending that seems so rushed it's running a 100 yard sprint.

10) I get it that Dante set this version in 1956 because the original film was set in 1956...but there's no reason for the film to be set therein. It seems to draw attention to the artifice of the plot and narrative--perhaps precisely because it's sold as an 'innocent' period piece when we know the 50's were not innocent at all.

Overall...a curio in the career of Dante that comes off as rather bland and uninteresting.

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