Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thank God It's Friday!

If you pitched most of the movies on this page, any mogul would regard you quizzically, then have you thrown the hell out of his office. Not so with Thank God It's Friday! It's 1977 and your high concept is "Grand Hotel, but at a disco. Starring Donna Summer." You'd be jammed full of cash and cigars and have a hooker clamped on to every orifice before you could even finish the sentence.
The first credit announces this as a collaboration between the Motown and Casablanca record labels, so the soundtrack should be -- and is -- excellent. We follow the characters as they move closer and close to the disco in time and space (the dowdy dental hygienist who closes the office, puts on a pink wig and begins huffing nitrous is a special favorite.)
We've also got a pair of fake-IDed teenagers on too-high wedgies -- one of them is none other than Teri Nunn of Berlin, years before being the only broad on MTV who could challenge Pat Benatar's bitchen-ness. (But also a few years after auditioning for Princess Leia.) They need to win the evening's dance contest so they can buy KISS tickets.
Then we've got the couple celebrating their fifth year of dull marriage by "trying something new." Then we have the jaded disco 'ho with naive friend (Debra Winger, a year before Cannery Row and Urban Cowboy) and two nerds on the make in a Volkswagen. The manic, afro-ed DJ, who has promised a live broadcast of the Commodores,  but isn't sure they'll show up. And, of course, the club's owner, a sleazebag in a burgundy sportcoat and yellow sportscar played by Jeff Goldblum. The DJ wagers Goldblum that Goldblum can win over Wifey. Apparently they do this every night...
This is the face I make after I bet the DJ a hundred bucks that I can fuck your wife.

The disco itself, the Zoo, is a vast space of much decor: There's an igloo-themed game room with pinball machines and penguins, a DJ booth that's shaped like a giant grail cup held by giant hands, an in-house jewelry store and a jungle-themed balcony with Tarzan-clad waiters. The endless labyrinth may seem preposterous, but it's not. It reminds me slightly of the World, the greatest club in human history. It was two buildings off of Avenue C that were connected in a rabbit warren of rooms. Downstairs, the elegant cabaret room, used occasionally by the Talking Heads but mostly by Dean Johnson and a variety of drag queens. Upstairs, the Jesus and Mary Chain with the Pixies opening or Public Enemy with Bob Christgau disputing Flavor Flav's depiction of Elvis as a racist or perhaps the Sugarcubes back when hardly anyone knew who Bjork was (Did i ever tell you about how i was  probably one of the first DJs stateside to play Bjork via the Sugarcubes? Back when they had but one single on an obscure Brit indie label and i was in high school but somehow had a show on Vassar College radio? But i digress...) On the old stage, Voguing to Rob Base. Elsewhere -- small hip-hop room, small goth room, you'd always seem to wander into the room where someone was trying to promote some amateur porn...
But back to the movie and the Zoo. Anniversary couple are having a lousy night, mostly thanks to incredibly uptight Hubby, as Wifey seems game for... well, anything. Leading to this exchange:
"This is the way the designer intended the dress to be worn."
"Did the designer also intend for every other guy here to look at your tits?"
"Dave, they're my tits, not yours."
"You're my wife, that makes them our tits! And our tits should be home where they belong!"
As you can imagine, this doesn't go over well and Jeff Goldblum takes his opportunity to move in on the MILF. In the meantime, Disco 'Ho lectures her naive friend Debra Winger about how to pick a winner. "See that guy? He is a CREEP. How do I know? Heavy polyester. I mean, polyester on a dance floor, that is a creep, Jennifer!" Guess that the guy(s) she goes home with will be wearing...

Other recurring bits: The sweaty fat guy looking for his blind date. The poor sap elevator operator that Golblum forces to wear a gorilla suit. The Nerds: overbearing, nearsighted, horny sidekick (played by Paul Jabara, composer of the title song of this movie, as well as "It's Raining Men") and his nice, normal, cute friend. The aforementioned dental hygienist -- who, jacked full of pills and spangles, takes up with Hubby and is soon stuffing him full of ups, downs and poppers. He reacts like any repressed CPA who's letting loose for the first time: He embarrasses himself but seems to recall none of it.
One thing Thank God It's Friday! does get right about disco -- and The World, for a matter of fact -- is the all-inclusiveness. Jaded regulars, impressionable newbies, kids, matrons, gay, straight, high, sober... there's room for everyone in the disco. We're all just here to dance: Check your bullshit at the door.

This "none of that shit matters in here" ethos is embodied by the movie's best character: "Marv Gomez, the Leatherman." He's a sort of Puck/Ariel spirit, the deus ex machina of the discotheque that encourages all of the characters make the leap from where they are to where they want to be. He cuts loose in a parking lot routine that outhustles anything Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever, like a weed-fueled, disco-era Gene Kelly. And then he issues the rasion d'etre for this film: "Dancing!  Everything else is bullshit!"

The Commodores show up in a fleet of jade-green Cadillac limos, but without their instruments. Hubby and Wifey fight, Goldblum sleazing right along. The girls are constantly thwarted in their efforts to enter the dance contest. Klutzy Debra Winger still can't find a guy. Everyone goes to the bathroom to cry... and then rallies themselves back to battle. With the help of a little lipgloss.
At the end, of course, it all works out fine: Boy meets Girl, Hubby reunites with Wifey, Girls win Dance Contest. And Donna gets her big break, looking and sounding like a goddess (Hair, makeup, wardrobe: All WERQ. Eat your heart out Diana Ross!) And, for once, it's easy to believe that the unknown-looking-for-the-big-break is that magical when everyone drops what they're doing and flings themselves to the dance floor when she busts out with "Last Dance."  Donna Summer was the true diva of the dancefloor epiphany. Years ago, back when New York City was awesome, i went to a Detroit Techno night inside the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage where Carl Craig deconstructed and then reconstructed "I Feel Love" with such majesty and climax that people lost it entirely. That as a magical, powerful experience that i will never forget and i have Donna and Carl to thank for it. (Also, after a gig like that, EDM will always be bullshit.)
Thank God It's Friday! has been cited as the worst movie ever to win an Oscar -- for the soundtrack, of course. I can think of plenty of movies worse than TGIF that won Oscars. The Blind Side. A River Runs Through It. Ghost. Life Is Beautiful. You would rather see Thank God It's Friday! than any of those movies. It isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it's quickly-paced, enjoyable and offers an endearing snapshot of its era. And the soundtrack. Oh, that soundtrack....

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