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So Bad It's Good: Why I Love 'Who's That Girl?'

'Who's That Girl?' movie poster

Our first online watchalong film series of 2021 will again focus on movies we love. Sadly, we are mostly alone in these feelings, as the films are more typically described as bombs, stinkers, career-enders, and flops. But here at MoPOP nerd headquarters, we embrace all types of fandom, even when the content we love is roundly criticized. So, join us for beloved (to someone!) classics like Wild Wild West (January 9), Con Air (February 13), Anaconda (March 13), Battlefield Earth (April 10), Troll 2 (May 8), and Catwoman (June 12) as part of our 2021 film series, So Bad It's Good.

But because we couldn’t fit all of the films that we alone love in our watchalong series (sorry Striptease, apologies Dirty Grandpa, much love Pluto Nashnothing but respect, Glitter), we’ve decided to post a series of blogs where one of our MoPOP film geeks writes lovingly about a film they think has been given short shrift (or no shrift at all!). And if you want to advocate for a film, let us know your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #MoviesAtMoPOP and prepare for the internet to pelt you with virtual garbage or, as Edward says to Bella in Twilight, “you’d better hold on, spider monkey.”

So Bad It’s Good Title: Who’s That Girl? (1987) 

  • So Bad It's Good Advocate: Jason Porter, Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP

Who’s That Girl? (1987) is a broad, slapstick comedy in which Madonna, fresh off the disaster of the epically terrible Shanghai Express, plays a “ditzy” blond named Nikki Finn who’s been wrongly convicted of a crime thatspoiler alert!a crooked businessman and her soon-to-be father-in-law committed. I believe it’s an homage of sorts to Bringing Up Baby, the classic Katherine Hepburn / Cary Grant comedy from the 1940sThe similarities between that classic and this, well, not classic abound: both films have a nerdy hero (Griffin Dunne, in the case of Who’s that Girl?), lots of physical gags, car crashes, and even a real live cougar played for laughs. 

Maybe that’s why people criticized this moviehow dare Madonna, the Material Girl, try to fill the shoes of the great Kate Hepburn? But watching Who’s That Girl? again now, despite groans for the awful sexual and gender politics that were rampant in comedies of the late 80s, many of the bits still work. Or at least, they work on me!  

Your honor, I state my case: the comedic performances are good. Dunne is a decent and lovable straight man, and a few talented character actorsHaviland Morris especially as Dunne’s spoiled rotten fiancédo quite a lot with what they are given. There’s a running gag at the end in which a group of silly bridesmaids (who went to Vassar!) somehow end up tied up together (definitely pre #MeToo and Fifty Shades of Greyand mayhem ensues, which I particularly love.  

And then there’s Madonna herself. Madge is doing some things here, and while not all of them workthere's a New York “street” accent happening and quite a bit of really energetic “tough girl” gum chewing as aspects of her, I suppose, Judy Holiday-inspired portrait of Nikki Finn. But she looks great, and she does a relatively diva-free job of letting her scene partners have at most of the comic bits. She’s funny and frothy in the part despite, perhaps, the fact that the filmmakers seemed to care less about her character arc than just capitalizing on her stardom (the year before she’d released “True Blue” which had five No. 1 hits on it!) and provide her with a movie vehicle that she seemed better suited to than 1986’s disaster Shanghai Surprise and would make more money than her widely praised film debut in Desperately Seeking Susan 

Maybe it’s not Bringing Up Baby and Madonna was not to be a comedic screen queen, but Who’s That Girl? deserves credit for providing her with just enough (and not too much) to do. It also gave the world a few new songs from the soundtrack that Madonna-philes would hate to live without, including Causing a Commotion and the title song which were big hits (and bangers) that outperformed the movie itself.  

But critics SAVAGED Who’s That Girl? Hal Hinson from the Washington Post started his review, “For the purposes of review, let's not call 'Who's That Girl?' a movie; let's call it an experimental work. What kind of experiment is it? The kind conducted in that obscure branch of science where they try to mate monkeys with shellfish.” Ouch! I will leave the explications for the film’s failure to the many master's theses that I’m sure have been written about Hollywood’s treatment of Madonna whocomplain all you want about her questionable choiceswhich have included appropriating queer drag culture, cone bras, the Sex Book, and Warren Beattyis an icon, and whatever she does, I think, deserves a look-see. Even a second-rate, farcical comedy in which she spends the last third of the movie in a silver tutu!

So, history has decided that Madonna would not have a successful film career (and she didn’t help matters by choosing parts in other stinkers like Swept AwayBody of Evidence, and The Next Best Thing), and I believe that that verdictlike the one that sent Nikki Finn to prison for four yearswas made erroneously. I have no shame for loving Who’s That Girl? with all its faults, and I stand by that love proudly and with my gloved hand (with no fingers) raised high in the air. I may be one of only a few people to feel this way, but I am proud to call this So Bad It’s Good film, a classic.

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About the author

Jason is the Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP.

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