Down From the Shelf ~ Mannequin

The Facts:

Synopsis: Jonathan is a department store window-dresser who discovers that one of his mannequins is actually a woman from ancient Egypt when she becomes animated one evening. She then inspires him to become the most expressive window-dresser the business has ever seen.

Stars: Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, Estelle Getty, James Spader, G.W. Bailey, Meshach Taylor, Carole Davis

Director: Michael Gottlieb

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Pardon the pun but in the case of Mannequin, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.  Some detractors might argue that that’s a good thing as overall Mannequin is a pretty silly film with little to no sense of logic or observance of time.  A staple of the tweeny-bopper sleepover since its release in 1987, the film is so sweetly good-natured that try as you might you may struggle to totally dislike it.

Reading more about Mannequin before writing this review, I was interested to see that nearly everything about the movie was crafted in relation to market research at the time.  In other words, it was made specifically for its target audience: young girls.  McCarthy was coming off a string of teen hits so a part originally written for an older man was fashioned as a star vehicle for McCarthy.  Cattrall was over a decade away from her career resurgence with the Sex and the City phenomenon yet still held sway over young men that remembered her from Porky’s and Police Academy.  In the late 80’s, research showed that young girls were most interested in fashion, fantasy, and cute boys and all three are the groundwork for Mannequin’s plot.

In production, the film was scoffed at for catering so blatantly to just one demographic (yet nowadays that’s what nearly all studios do) so when it was released to negative reviews no one was truly shocked.  When the $6 million dollar film opened at number one and went on to make $41 million, heads and minds were turned. It even spawned a terrible sequel (Mannequin 2: On the Move) that seemed to be targeted at no one.

Viewed today, Mannequin is a prime calling card of cinema in the latter part of the 80’s.  Made and released as the country was changing its values and welcoming in the era of greed, it’s oddly stuck in a sort of time warp that doesn’t seem entirely familiar.  I wonder what a teen of today thinks when they see all the fuss about department store windows, shoulder pads, and a healthy dose of classic 80’s music. 

Speaking of music, did you know that Mannequin is an Oscar-nominated film?  Yessir it is!  “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Jefferson Starship may have lost the Oscar to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing but the song retains its power even today.

One look at the cast list for the film and you see what a strong group was involved.  McCarthy and Cattrall both had chemistry to spare, Cattrall in particular looks great throughout and feels right for the part.  Getty got out of her old lady gear from The Golden Girls to play a dotty store owner targeted for liquidation by, among others, a scheming executive (Spader at his greasy best), a dunderhead night security guard (Cattrall’s Police Academy co-star Bailey), and McCarthy’s shrewish girlfriend (model Davis who rightly had a fairly short-lived screen career).  Taylor’s performance as a flamboyant window dresser is so stereotypical it might make your skin crawl, but you must consider the time and place this film was made.  It doesn’t make it right but it makes it easier to understand.

I still have a great affinity for the film even if it starts to lose its charm in a few mean-spirited moments as it reaches its conclusion.  Still, the harmless fairy tale good vibes it gives off are a welcome nostalgic distraction from the present…escapist entertainment for the 80’s teen.

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