My adoration of cheesy 80s/90s movies, especially set in LA, is rooted in some kind of wishful escapism from my pine-trees-Georgia childhood.
My mom’s side of the family is comprised of blue collar cops and Sears clerks, Baptists and poor Republicans nonetheless. I always dreamed of a glamourous Los Angeles life, though I have never been, and in more feminine performative personas, I longed to be a blue jean shorts-wearing bleached Barbie babe sipping some bahama boozy beverage. Though the closest I’ll get to it is a Blue Motherfucker at Mary’s, my hairy cellulite trapped in Ross discount black tights, I can always dream and I do! I feed my mind with guilty good-bad pleasures on the couch, a la Earth Girls Are Easy, Teen Witch, Clueless, Encino Man, Jawbreaker, Point Break, LA Story, Modern Girls, Ruthless People, Pretty Woman, thrifted VHS tapes galore in troves, my nostalgia sparking such silly, superficial fantasies.
There’s no LA movie more sacred to my childhood than Troop Beverly Hills. Intriguing from the Beach Boys-meets-Ren and Stimpy opening credits (tho my fav John K animation is Bjork’s “I Miss You”), Phyllis Nefler is a mom and a housewife, but not just any old housewife: she lives in a consumerist California credit card caprice. Toting big fancy hats and fitted gowns galore, the homemaker (or more so mansion-maven mom) has gardeners, maids, and a smoking hot leather bustier erotica novelist for a BFF.
There’s trouble in paradise, however: she’s going through a “nasty divorce” with a husband who thinks her only talent is to spend all his money. Their daughter, played by a young Jenny Lewis (years before becoming an indie pop princess), claims their bickering is going to land her “in therapy twice a week,” but Mr. Nefler argues it would be better for everyone if they were “happily divorced than unhappily married.”
Phyllis, of course, does not want this divorce. There is speculation of a midlife crisis, the presence of a younger woman, and all the snarky side comments about the male ego abound. In the end, though, Phyllis knows the real reason for tension: now that she’s rewarding herself for all the behind-the-scenes work she did creating a foundation for her husband’s career, she is seen as not deserving. Her feelings of underappreciation rang loud and clear for many hetero moms, especially on the cusp of the 90s.
After all, if a man paid his wife for all the laundry, dishes, and housework she does while he is away, being a housewife would essentially be its own career. According to the article How Much is a Homemaker Worth?, in 2012, personal chefs made $200 to $500 a day, nannies made $600 to $950 per week in gross wages on average, and house cleaning for a year cost $6,136. None of this includes laundry or shopping for household items.
In the process of being ridiculed by the soon-to-be-ex hubby for not “doing anything,” Phyllis signs up as her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop leader. What she discovers is a new career in the wake of her separation. Sweet Shelley Long comes upon many obstacles, her husband and his snarky new girlfriend the least of her problems when compared to the veteran Wilderness Troop leader who will do anything to get Phyllis and the Beverly Hills Troop kicked out of the organization. In order for Phyllis to accomplish her goals and build the confidence of herself and the little Beverly Hills brats who come from a variety of privileged backgrounds with very strict expectations, she essentially has to continuously believe in herself and keep trying. There are people who laugh at her, mock her, and tell her bluntly to “give it up.” Even her whole troop feels humiliation and frustration and wants to quit.
There is another common theme throughout the film that is worth noting, though the movie is goofy and silly in its own heartwarming, family friendly way, and yet it’s the very reason I love it. Women who are regarded as too glamorous are seen often as being frivolous and shallow. To be over-the-top femme, you are placed in a category of unimportant eye candy, and in Phyllis’s case, as the trophy “perfect Beverly Hills wife.” Undoubtedly one of the worst, most horrendous assumptions about high femmes is that they are “stupid.” And of course, she proves all of those assholes who underestimate her resourcefulness wrong.
So if you're looking for some life lessons in Troop Beverly Hills (and you should be!), here’s what our cute Shelley Long discovered as an LA lady forlorn in matrimonial agony:
1. Everybody takes a spill sometimes. Sink or swim!
2. When you’re in a rut, do something new. You might find that you hate it, but sometimes you’ll find you love a few things, too. You might even find an entire other path for yourself.
3. If you are friends with people who care more about status than they do about values, they’ll have no problem throwing you under the bus, or threatening to send you back to working at K-Mart, or leave you stranded with a broken leg on a wilderness trail race, or whatever.
4. On the flipside, your true blue friendships are important! It’s important to pay attention to the sensitivities and help your friends find ways to overcome obstacles and make triumphs out of difficult situations. After all, your crew is a reflection of you.
5. Money can’t buy you happiness, yo. But if you DO have money you can use your resources towards helping others, building community, and bringing other people a bit of happiness.
6. You don’t have to prove your authenticity to ANYONE. Love yourself and the rest will follow.
Join WUSSY Mag and Scoutmob ATL at the Plaza Theater for a special screening of Troop Beverly Hills on Thursday, March 10th, starting at 8PM. Enjoy this cult classic while sipping cocktails and enjoying your favorite girl scout cookies served by some of Atlanta's best performers, including Brigitte Bidet and Ellisorous Rex, with a special appearance by Kryean Kally. And come dressed in your favorite Scout look for our Campfire Couture costume contest! The winner will receive a bar tab to enjoy some drinks during the movie.
And join us for the after party at Mary’s EAV! You'll receive a free drink with a ticket stub from the show.
Sunni Johnson, arts editor at WUSSY Mag, is an Atlanta musician and zinester.