“I’m not going to say what I’m thinking,” said Troop Beverly Hills director Jeff Kanew as he looked out over the multitude assembled at the Bell House last night for Troop Beverly Hills: The Experience, a campy, cultish screening of the now 20 year old film that starred Shelley Long and introduced Jenny Lewis. Quickly, he changed his mind. “You people are fucking crazy.”
It was easy to see his point. When the film was released it was by all accounts a flop: Janet Maslin dismissed it as “a one-idea movie, and the idea isn’t new.” But try telling that to the twentysomethings in the audience, most of whom were roughly eight in 1989 and thus lacked the critical compunction to declare the movie “awfully tired” as Maslin did. They actually never tired; watching the movie over and over, memorizing not just the words but the cadence and timing of every single line. (I should know: I was one of them, knowing exactly how Phyllis Nefler pronounced phrases like “silicon is buoyant” without yet knowing what they meant.)
Kanew gamely answered questions about the former Wilderness Girls, admitting that Bette Midler was originally slated to play Phyllis and dishing that he encouraged Carla Gugino to lie about her age (she was 16ish at the time.) He noted that Tasha Scott — aka the Tina Turner-esque frontwoman of “It’s Cookie Time” — now has kids who are in the road production of The Lion King. Kanew declared Kellie Martin “a really solid actress and a really sweet girl,” and gave regrets on behalf of Emily Schulman: “She wanted to be here, but she’s very pregnant.” (Schulman’s parents were in the crowd.)
When the film began to a shrill but rousing cheer from the homo-gyn-ous crowd, it included a number of fun facts on the screen in a style reminiscent of Pop-up Video. Some were kind of boring — the outside shots of Wilderness Girl headquarters were filmed at UCLA, big whoop — but others got a genuine OMG reaction from the crowd. Would you have ever, ever known that Tessa’s dad’s friend — that random dude who drives the Jeep in all of three scenes — grew up to be Carrie Bradshaw’s main gay Stanford Blatch? My life is richer for having learned. Also, the lady in the uniform store — “I ain’t sellin’ this to no masquerade party!” — would end up as Harriet Winslow on Family Matters. I knew that voice sounded familiar.
In addition to the trivia, the screen featured cheesy graphics like TORI ALERT — yes, she was in the film — and occasional prompts to speak along with famous lines, which led at one point to a room full of white girls all but triple-snapping as they shrieked “Ex-cuuuuuuuse me officer, don’t you know who this man is?”
Most interesting was the group’s reaction to a directive to “Shout mean things at Lisa!” that popped up on screen when the evil new girlfriend character slinked out of her convertible. “WHORE!” screamed what seemed like the entire room in near unison. It was a scene that could keep modern feminists and linguists alike busy for days.
Turning around to order a glass of wine, I did a double take: standing a few feet away at the bar was none other than Ivanka Trump, in a crisp white button down, full black skirt, and bright red-ish shoes. There for a friend’s birthday party (according to her Twitter feed, where she also astutely mused that Troop Beverly Hills is “the Caddy Shack for women!”) she was tall and lovely, like a swan among the chickens. And as I watched her return to the fourth row with drinks in hand, squeezing apologetically through to her seat, I couldn’t help but be charmed: it was just like the scene where Phyllis disrupts the troop leader meeting, you know?
A few minutes later, the dance montage scene that culminates with The Freddie began. “Please stand!” implored a note on the screen, and a girl sitting on the floor in front of me who had come costumed in some sort of gold lame getup (maybe she was supposed to be Claire’s mom?) jumped up and began flailing, her hands swinging dangerously close to my face. I noticed with surprise that Ivanka was also out of her seat, half-dancing and giggling with her friends. She would have been eight when the movie came out, too.
I left the screening early, shortly after the troop encountered a broken-ankled Velda Plendor during the Annual Jamboree, because I had the sudden realization that hundreds of girls emptying out of the Bell House and onto the dark streets of Gowanus en masse would not make for a seamless transportation-back-to-Manhattan experience. On my way out, I stopped at a table where some folks from Ivy Bakery were selling, you guessed it, cookies. I bought one called “The S’more.”
I went outside and hopped into a black car that was probably idling there for someone who had actually called ahead and reserved it. (Sorry, whoever’s that was!) As we drove across the bridge I ate the cookie, which was delicious, and resisted the urge to start audibly humming Kumbayah.