Film review by Jason Day of Mannequin (1987), the romcom starring Andrew McCarthy as a man who falls in love with a shop window mannequin. When no one else is looking, she turns into a beautiful woman (Kim Cattrall). Directed by Michael Gottlieb.
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Young artist Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy) is struggling to find his way in life. He loses job after job, much to the consternation of his high-maintenance girlfriend Roxie (Carole Davis). He makes a beautiful mannequin and, later, finds her in the shop window of a struggling department store owned by feisty Claire Timkin (Estelle Getty).
After he saves Claire’s life when a shop sign nearly falls on her, she sees promise in him and secures him a job at the store. Jonathan, left alone with his creation, falls in love with her making her suddenly spring to life as Emmy (Kim Cattrall).
They begin a romance – Emmy only coming to life when they are alone – and she inspires Jonathan to make arresting window designs that attract new customers and revitalise the store’s poor profits.
Jonathan and Emmy’s love grows but they must avoid the suspicious eyes of a slimy executive (James Spader), a creepy security guard (G.W. Bailey) and envious competitors.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Nothing’s gonna stop us now.Mannequin’s (1987) Oscar-nominated song, from the group Starship.
Sometimes, explaining what a film’s about can be a complex thing.
Either it’s startling, artform defining editing and storytelling styles (as in The Battleship Potemkin, 1926 – a movie I struggle talking up at the best of times anyway), the covert – sometimes overt…and disturbing – sexual, gendered power-play in Alfred Hitchock’s work or the many new, exciting voices, messages and meanings in a range of ‘new black’ pieces of recent years, there is more going on in a medium that Hitch himself summed up to a star with: “Ingrid (Bergman). It’s only a movie.”
Funny then how typing out the summary above of writer/director Michael Gottlieb’s on-the-surface simple but also fascinatingly odd 80’s ‘hazy fantasy’ flick proved to be a headscratcher for me.
I mean, it’s about a bloke who humps a glorified blow-up doll, right?
Who was once an Egyptian Princess, right?
And when they play dress up and make believe in an empty department store, she goes paragliding in the atrium (like, really?!)
But as I typed, deleted and retyped it out, the more nonsensical it all sounded. What do you include – or not – to get to the core of what happens in this improbable and implausible piece?
But it doesn’t matter how silly Mannequin is. This was the 80s and it is a fantasy and, summary now dealt with, there is a little bit of substance to it if you scratch beneath the surface. (But don’t scratch too hard or too deep. Keep in mind that Hitchcock comment).
For those us with longer memories than we care to admit, the 80’s were a mad time, the “decade that taste forgot”. The years of Dynasty, glitz and glamour, shoulder pads and champagne, yuppies and other assorted ‘Loadsamoney’ types (I suggest a quick Google now for the Young and Oblivious amongst you).
The aforementioned ‘dressing up sequence’ when Jonathan and Emmy pretend to be everyone from sports stars to film stars in the store’s various departments, is the drippily daft but hugely enjoyable and good natured raison d’être of the picture…complete and wondrous whimsy.
The previously aimless Jonathan explores possible, fictional roles for himself, supported by Emmy’s guiding hand. New York is also transformed…suddenly it’s the city of new hopes and opportunities. Not screeching, complaining girlfriends and endless, very short-term jobs.
Mannequin also makes some light but effective, satirical jabs at the ambitious, acquisitions obsessed types that abounded during the 80’s: James Spader plays the sort of oily, incompetent, arse-kissing exec-type who always rises to the top.
Jonathan and girlfriend Roxie are an interesting pairing. She seems to love him but is more interested in his work driving up the profit margins of her rival department store. He is vague, creative and his his head in the clowds. She’s is a needy, vapid type, more at home in a limo sipping bubbly than sitting astride his motorbike getting her hair fussed up.
I wonder what their backstory is? He must have been a successful – albeit, fleetingly – artist to catch her interest. Now, as soon the occasion arises, she jumps at comical Euro ‘stallion’ Armand’s offer of a lusty bunkup. Considering nothing else rises when she’s with him, he’s definitely more of a French poodle.
There are things in Mannequin that cause the modern viewer a twinge of disgust. The way the script refers to the camp designer Holly Wood (played with scene-chewing relish by Meshach Taylor) as a ‘black fag’ has you hanging your head in disbelief. Taylor has a lot of fun, but is the part a bit too much, a bit – and I use this phrase as a gay man myself – too gay?
Then again, Mannequin chucks subtlety out of the window before it even starts – the ancient Egypt sequence where we get Emmy’s biography, is over with quickly – so it’s not surprising the sole gay character would have the volume turned up to max.
Performance wise, McCarthy has never been more laidback and charming. He made far more noteworthy movies during his ‘Brat Pack’ days but the stock of this strange brew has risen much more in recent years and it is a firm, cult favourite now. Cattrall, long before TV’s Sex and the City, is grace and ‘va va voom’ personified. And yes, she manages to avoid being wooden or a ‘dummy’.
Best fun comes from the roll call of panto villainy in the support cast; Bailey (the Police Academy films) in particular twinkles as much as the writing allows him.
Just remember though, Mannequin is only a movie!
Cast & credits
Director: Michael Gottlieb. 1hr 30 mins/90 mins. Gladden Entertainment/20th Century Fox. (PG).
Producer: Art Levinson.
Writer: Michael Gottlieb, Edward Rugoff.
Camera: Tim Suhrstedt.
Music: Sylvester Levay.
Sets: Josan F. Russo.
Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, Estelle Getty, James Spader, G.W. Bailey, Carole Davis, Steve Vinovich, Christopher Maher, Meshach Taylor, Phyllis Newman.