I wrote an article about movies that have gotten really bad reviews that I think are actually really good for Hello Giggles a couple of years ago and I got to thinking on the subject again recently. What makes a really bad or really good movie is usually a matter of opinion, of course. To some people the kitsch of Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler walking down an empty New York City street doing Rockette kicks and singing along to “You Don’t Own Me” is impossible to get through without bemoaning the current state of cinema while others can’t help but feel giddy at the lighthearted moment shared between three of the most influential stars on the big screen. For the purposes of this list, I am definitely in the second camp.
The First Wives Club (1996)
With the stellar Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn as the female leads and a supporting cast including Sarah Jessica Parker, Maggie Smith, Marcia Gay Harden and even Elizabeth Berkley, it was pretty much predestined that I would love this film. Brenda (Midler), Elsie (Hawn) and Annie (Keaton) are college best friends who are reunited after their mutual pal, Cynthia, commits suicide. They find out that Cynthia grew depressed after her husband left her for a younger woman and all three are also coming to terms with their similar situations — Brenda’s husband Mort left her for the younger (and thinner) Shelly (Parker) after gaining notoriety for his successful discount electronics chain; Elsie’s husband and producer Bill demands a divorce and half of her fortune when she hits a rough patch in her career after hitting 40; Annie’s husband Aaron leads her to believe they are getting back together, sleeps with her, and then reveals that he cheated on her with their marriage counselor and wants a divorce.
They women decide to form an alliance, The First Wives Club, in an effort to get revenge on their exes. Much ridiculous hilarity ensues that includes dangling out of a high rise window on a painter’s ledge and a trip to a gay bar but I think the main and most heartfelt point of this film is what comes across the strongest — what it means to be a friend, and a woman, and to reinvent yourself when you least expected you would have to. I’m calling total girl power on this film; and if you can get through the final scene without laugh crying, you must have a heart of stone.
Curly Sue (1991)
John Hughes might be best known for his 80s Brat Pack films, but it was Curly Sue that was part of my childhood. This poorly reviewed but much beloved film follows Bill Dancer (James Belushi) and Curly Sue (the adorable Alison Porter) as homeless people with hearts of gold. After a high powered attorney named Grey Ellison (Kelly Lynch) hits Bill with her car, she puts them up in her fancy-shmantz apartment for the night. When it’s revealed that Bill isn’t actually Sue’s father, it sets off a chain reaction that sees Grey falling for both Bill and little Curly Sue, as well as the possibility of the new trio being separated by the law.
It’s Alison Porter that stole the show for me as a little girl — she was simultaneously adorable and crass, preferred to run cons rather than take bubble baths, wore sneakers with her dresses and ate spaghetti with gusto. As a self-proclaimed girly girl who also skinned her knees playing outside on an almost daily basis, Curly Sue was definitely something of a kindred spirit. Of course, the plot went over my head a bit, but looking back on it now, it’s always nice to see the good guys get a fair shake, love conquer all and that sometimes you can, in fact, choose your family.
Never Been Kissed (1999)
I was almost surprised that this movie had garnered so many negative reviews, because to me, it’s one of the best of the corny romantic comedies of the decade. When Josie Gellar (Drew Barrymore) is assigned to her first big story for the newspaper where she is a copy editor, she decides to go undercover as a high school student. Josie was extremely unpopular during her own high school years, earning the nickname “Josie Grossie” along with being the butt of many cruel jokes and pranks. As adult Josie relives her torturous experience and tries to find her place among the school’s popular and nerdy crowds, she finds herself slowly falling for her sweet English teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan) and battling with her hard ass editor Gus (John C. Reilly.) Will Josie ever get over her past? Will she get her bog story? Will she ever be kissed? I mean, how can you even handle that suspense?
Sure, the film is pretty formulaic as far as teen 90s rom-com plots go, but the cast of this one is undeniably stellar (Molly Shannon, David Arquette, Leelee Sobieski and Octavia Spencer, just to name a few) and the premise of exploring demons you’ve never truly gotten past and finding out who you really are in adulthood is something that I think a lot of people can relate to. Plus, there are some truly funny and heartbreaking moments (the flashback to Josie’s prom night in high school being the biggest tearjerker of all) and one of the sweetest and most romantic closing scenes in all of 90s films. I never can get through the scene of the baseball mound without ringing my hands with worry, eyes rimmed with tears, although I know exactly how it’s going to end up. If that’s the mark of a really bad movie, then I’m totally okay with that.
Susie Q (1996)
Susie Q harkens back to an age in which every single made-for-TV Disney movie was pure gold — it also starred Amy Jo Johnson (my beloved Pink Power Ranger) as the title character, so I was never going to not love this movie. The movie begins in 1955 with Susie Quinn getting ready for the Winter Formal. Before her date arrives her sickly grandfather pulls her aside and urgently asks her to make sure that her mother comes up to talk to him. She promises, but in the haze of excitement over taking photos and trying to get her boyfriend’s car to start, she forgets. It’s only half way to the dance that she realizes her error and asks her boyfriend to turn around. His car stalls just as a car full of drunken teenagers hit them at full speed, causing their car to fall into the lake below, killing them both. Cut to the present day where Zach Sands (Justin Whalen) has just moved into Susie’s old house with his mother and sister after losing his own father in a car crash. He finds the charm bracelet Susie was wearing the night she died, and is subsequently the only person able to see her ghost. She asks Justin to help her figure out why her parents were evicted from their home and now live in a trailer park.
Most of the film is sickly sweet but it does deal with some super heavy topics including death, teen drinking, guilt, poverty and broken families. As a 90s kid, I feel like we were given so much more credit back then for being able to deal with the ugly things the world has to offer — much to, I think, our benefit. Of course, there is some questionable acting, a Chemistry Lab explosion, a bank heist of sorts, a pivotal basketball game and a closing scene that would make anyone roll their eyes at how unrealistic it is… but what makes a great 90s kids movie if not all of the above? P.S. — I have always wanted to dress as Susie Q for Halloween, ripped up pink prom dress, sneakers and all. Think anyone would know what I was going for?
Kerri Jarema is the creator and editor of Lydia Magazine. She was born and raised in New York City and still calls it home. When she isn’t busy writing and editing she can usually be found with her nose in a book, watching way too much TV, fangirling on Tumblr, singing very loud when no one is around, obsessing over everything British and exploring her favorite neighborhoods. Find her on Twitter@kerrajar.