I must say, that part of being a gay man nowadays is using the word fabulous. I'm not sure what it is, but we all eventually use it in our conversations. They've even made jokes about it on shows like "Will and Grace" (yes, I know...its not exactly the most accurate of depictions of gay life...but then neither is "Queer as Folk" and the boys just LOVE that)...one of my favorites being when Will and Jack were 'training' a newbie friend of theirs. He uses the word fabulous for the first time and Jack gets misty eyed and says "Baby's first fabulous!" Why am I going on so much about the word fabulous? Well, because it takes me back to the time when I first became enamored with the word, and the age of five, and it was all because of a wonderfully kooky film from 1989. So follow me 21 years into the past and enjoy romping through the wilderness with the girls from Troop Beverly Hills.
Picture it, Beverly Hills California in 1989. The sun is shining, the 80s music is playing, the celebrities are making cameos, and Shelley Long is playing Phyllis Neffler...the eccentric mother of one and wife to "Coach's" Craig T. Nelson. Phyllis is an unfulfilled, spoiled, and selfish woman who is seeking something to do with her empty life now that her marriage is ending and her source of income is going along with it. So, in order to fill her time and spend more time with her daughter Hannah, Phyllis decides to become the new local troop leader of the Wilderness Girls (a thinly veiled knock off of the Girl Scouts of America). It is rocky at first, she over does her outfits and the refreshments and she makes an enemy of the regional director, Velda Plendor (Betty Thomas), when she takes the girls on a campout to the Beverly Hills Hotel. However, as she comes to love the girls and finds the creative person inside of herself, she finds that she is every bit the Wilderness Girl that Plendor is, and she helps the girls discover their strength as well.
By now, some of you are probably gagging over the implications of this corny and somewhat pedestrian summary of the film because yes, it does sound like 'that' kind of film. The one where misfit and unqualified heroes get to win against much more qualified (yet bitchy) individuals despite ineptness and character flaws. We've seen so many of these over the years that we can smell the ending coming a mile away, and yet Troop Beverly Hills has always managed to seem a bit more special to me than so many of these films. Maybe its nostalgia from my youth, maybe its the witty script, and maybe its the effervescent performance by Shelley Long. My vote goes to Long, who plays one of her least whiny film characters of her career and who really manages to make Phyllis seem like a real person. Yes, she is spoiled and self-centered...but she also shows real love to the girls in the film and shows clear growth in character. It is moments like these that make me wonder why Shelley Long didn't have a longer and better career...I can only guess it is because she was typecast in so many annoying and whiny roles. Oh well, some people hit it big and some people don't and I guess Shelley was one of those unlucky ones. Oh, she's still working...but she's much more off the radar. Oh well, at least we fans of hers can still enjoy her 'heyday' of 80s films. So friends, find yourself a copy of Troop Beverly Hills and prepare yourselves for a few good chuckles and an overall, FABULOUS time.