' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: My Chauffeur (1986)

Friday, August 07, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: My Chauffeur (1986)

"My Chauffeur" is nearing the end, which means it should be gathering screwball steam to really arrive at a thunderous conclusion, when the title character, Casey Meadows (Deborah Foreman), is made to pick up an Arab sheik and squire him to a meeting. The Arab sheikh is played not by an Arab, however, but by Teller, the infamously silent magician, which would be a major problem if the film didn't already have, like, 127 other problems going for it. The sheikh willingly allows a con artist, played by Teller's onstage accomplice Penn Jillette, into the limo with him. And a film about this chauffeur suddenly stops being all about this chauffeur right when it should most be about this chauffeur to just, like, watch Penn & Teller do their whole routine in the backseat of a limousine for five or ten minutes with scantily clad women for accompaniment because it’s a gross-out eighties comedy and that’s what you do.


It speaks not only to the film’s scattershot-ness but to its for-moment-ness. Casey is a character who flits from identity to one another, whatever suits whatever the hell the movie wants to be at any given moment. In the Penn & Teller "laugh riot", as the girls in back are undressing, Casey is made to smile, perhaps at the buxomness, perhaps at the go-with-the-flow vibe of these wacky customers, who knows? Director David Beaird, I discover, who also wrote the screenplay, came up through the Chicago theater scene, a fairly surprising fact when you consider this film’s immense sloppiness, discombobulated narrative and all-out devotion to eighties-styled sleaze. One second Casey is impersonating Scarlett O’Hara to demonstrate her unwillingness to take anyone’s shit and the next second she’s taking all the shit the screenplay Beaird’s absolutely-anything-goes screenplay dishes out.

The film opens with stuffy McBride (Howard Hesseman), manager of the Brentwood Limousine Service telling his fleet of just-as-stuffy drivers that "The yahoos are at the window. They must not pass." And so naturally, at that very instant, in waltzes Casey Meadows, wearing Madonna-ish fingerless gloves and a variation of Dorothy's ruby-red slippers with slouch sucks for adornment. She has been offered a job with his company. McBride scoffs. The other drivers scoff. She's a woman, after all! Egads!

"My Chaffeur" seems to be setting itself up as a battle of the sexes, a woman infiltrating a boy's club and proving she can do the job just as well, especially considering she is deliberately given difficult jobs to do as a means to fail and provide sufficient grounds for her dismissal. Naturally she handles each of these jobs with accidental aplomb, her yahoo-ish nature providing the perfect means to chaperone yahoos like a British punk rocker. Eventually, though, the idea of her as a teenage heroine standing up to the evils of sexism gets accidentally left behind at the rest stop so she can meet Mr. Right because if Mrs. Main Character can't find a guy and settle down then what does it all mean?!

It’s like an MTV version of Pygmalion if Pygmalion had to be re-made into a prim and proper Valley Girl capable of going to the country club with daddy. And maybe that makes it perfect for the 80's, an era where kids theoretically rebelled even as the Gordon Gekko's of the world unwittingly infected their brains. Casey winds up with the son of the tycoon who employs her. She has to dress up, forsake her yahoo-ness and then she can pass. She becomes an emblem of respectability, graduating from the front seat of the limo to the souped-up back, a rags-to-riches hero's journey. It's like if Cyndi Lauper became Ivana Trump. Money changes everything

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