Admittedly, there are films in the RV list that aren’t Annemarie’s favorite. They exist on the list mostly because she is at least somewhat fond of them and also: Brooke hasn’t seen them, which is a rarity. This isn’t that situation. Troop Beverly Hills is a nostalgic wonderland through Southern California, and one that should have been watched a long, long time ago.
Brooke, tell us your thoughts on this film, why it’s one of AM’s faves, and why it made the list.
B: Troop Beverly Hills is one of those movies that I’ve known I should watch for a long, long time. It has a cult status and is a gem of the late 80s/early 90s that by all accounts is “extremely my shit.” Before we watched this movie, I turned on the trailer to decide if I was going to rent it or buy it, and within 10 seconds I was so thoroughly sold that it was an instant purchase. This is one of those movies that lives right at the overlap of all things that Annemarie and I share an affinity for: quirky female leads, clever jokes, hot goss and a touch of rebellion. I imagine young AM watching this movie and cackling at the arrows it slings at the rich and fabulous while also wishing to have their wardrobes. Troop Beverly Hills delivers a very pure joy that I’ve come to associate with staples of the Moody home, and I must say, it is one of my favorite Required Viewing selections ever. I do have some points of protest (we’ll get there), but mostly, I love Phyllis Nefler and want to kick it with her.
AM, give the people a quick recap, if you will, and tell us why this movie actually made the list.
A: Let’s start with Phyllis Nefler (Shelley Long), who is peak ’80s to me. She’s got the Beverly Hills closet, car, and credit cards that were oh-so coveted then (and let’s face it, now). She’s a woman in need of some change pending a divorce from Coach (Craig T. Nelson, who’s also one of my favorites — have we talked about The Family Stone here yet?), so she takes on the leadership of her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop. And yes, it’s obvious this is off-brand Hollywood Girl Scouts. I did notice the Boy Scouts logo used early on, so they seemingly gave the ok? Coach is a dick about it, rails about how Phyllis never finishes anything and that she’s changed from the carefree, creative woman he fell in love with. As we find out, ACTUALLY he’s got a new girlfriend, so to begin with, it’s problematic.
You’re right in that this is a Moody family staple, and was in fact screened at a Girl Scout overnight! It’s like movies about marching band: they never quite get my experience right, but it’s still really fun to see your childhood reflected through the lens of a movie. And you’re also right that this was what I thought L.A. was like when I was a kid: beachy glam highlighted with crimped hair and neon accents. This impression is definitely from Troop Beverly Hills, in addition to my many trips to Disneyland, and of course, reading the Babysitters’ Club book California Girls! (Super Special # 5) probably about a dozen times.
Brooke, tell us what you thought of Phyllis, and since it kicks off the film, what are your thoughts on Coach?
B: Wherever Phyllis is, I want to be. Any woman who can turn a bummer of a camping trip into an overnight at a cabana in a posh hotel with croissants and coffee and who knows what else on room service order, is a woman for me. Also, any woman that sees the potential of a scouts uniform to be glammed up with a cape is a woman I can learn from. I also can’t wait to show you the good work Shelley Long does in the Brady Bunch movies, because she is a true comedic gem. Indeed, she was a significant factor in my hype for this picture, and she lived up to it in a very real way. I only wish she had the opportunity to go ham on more roles like this.
As for Coach, I love him in The Family Stone, but he can suck rocks in this picture. He does the stale stereotypical middle-aged thing and demands a separation, acts like a child, starts a relationship with his “realtor,” neglects his kid and then after he’s had a taste of all of that realizes that his wife was actually pretty incredible and figures saying as much will be enough to win her back. To my great irritation, that eventually happens. Oh look, my beef, we got to it!
AM make me understand why they needed to be a “happy” family again when Phyllis is better on her own. Help meeee! Also, let’s do as we must and share which Wilderness Girl we would be most like.
A: Let’s not pretend this movie exists anywhere else besides Hollywoodland, wherein the heterosexual white leads must always end up coupled at the end. That’s the only reason why. However, the real question is: does this ending get earned, or do we think Phyllis is making a mistake? I think it’s clear she doesn’t want a divorce from the beginning and still loves Freddie. So it makes sense that when things start to fall apart for him, he’d want to come back, but I also think she’d been hoping he’d do that all along. It’s cliche, it’s aggravating for those of us who want to see the growth earned by Phyllis go to someone who appreciates her (or no one at all!). I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but mostly because we’ve been trained to want them at the end of stories. It completes a satisfying story arc, and I think Coach isn’t jerky enough to be completely beyond redemption.
Brooke, let’s get into your counterargument. But first, I’m not sure I’m cool enough to be any of those girls, but I most relate to Chica (baby Carla Gugino). My parents never forgot my birthday, but her rules-following ways are me. Brooke, same question back.
B: To no one’s surprise, I am not here for this reconciliation. Sure, Phyllis doesn’t want a divorce when we meet her, but she also thinks she can’t finish anything. We watch her blossom into a dynamic force of the course of this film, and I’m sorry, but that kind of transformation comes with awareness. Specifically the awareness that your ex-husband sucks and you don’t need him. That man didn’t ask for equal custody of his child until Phyllis chose to speak of her happiness instead of begging for him back. Not only was he behind the ball for any kind of a decent parent, it was an afterthought, not an actual wish. Go fly a kite, Coach, the girls are better off without you.
In classic us fashion, I also feel the greatest connection with Chica, she’s no nonsense and a little bit cynical, but she also just wants to be loved. In another reality, I might have been a bit of a baby Jenny Lewis, but that girl pined for parental reconciliation. I didn’t. And my mom might have been Phyllis, but we all know she wouldn’t fall for that nonsense.
Annemarie, if you were to create a few Wilderness Girls patches for us to earn, what would they be?
A: I can see you as a non-Coach-shipping Jenny Lewis, except she’s got great balance. Neither of us are coordinated enough for that balance beam.
I think I know the answer to this problem of Coach. What if, instead of reconciling with her ex, the hot CPR cop shows up at the Jamboree? We’re veering into fan fiction, but that’d satisfy my need for a happy ending and your need to not have Phyllis backpedal.
Patches we’d be good at:
- Waffle-ing Things
- Giving Opinions
- Watch Parties
- Convincing Brooke’s Mom to Make Shark Cakes
- International Traveling
- Decorating with Books
What else? And speaking of patches, let’s next examine what’s problematic about Troop Beverly Hills. I’ll start: Patches?! We don’t need no stinkin’ PATCHES!
B: Okay, sold on the fan fiction. And now for a few more patches we would be great at:
- Cheese Board Assembly
- Hot Goss
- Levity (Not Brevity)
- Fast Talking
- Jimmy Stewart Impressions
Wait, can we actually make these? Cause I want them.
What’s problematic about Troop Beverly Hills? Other than the usual cringe factors of the ’80s (racism, sexism, lots of isms), I’ll add this one to the fire. So much smoking around the youths! Phyllis, haven’t you heard that second-hand smoke kills? AM, you know the movie better than I do, what else did I miss while I was drinking in the high fashion?
A: Smoking in films now seems like a long-lost relic, but it’s shocking how often everyone smoked up until very recently! That’s v problematic, but I also realized there’s some tone-deaf things I never noticed as a youth, including the character of Rosa and pretty much everything out of her mouth. She’s delightful, but she’s playing the Mexican Maid character, which we now see as stereotypical and limiting. Shelley Morrison brings so much empathy and comedy to it that it’s not as problematic as it would be, but I think we know now to look for Hispanic women in more diverse roles than Mexican Maid.
The other “is this problematic?” moment for me is the dad who is supposed to be an actual dictator living in Southern California? Where is he the dictator of? It’s played for laughs, but is it funny to be a dictator? Perhaps if he’s the kind type, as we’re lead to believe?
Also, let’s definitely get those patches made. I feel like there’s an Etsy shop for that.
What’s your thoughts on the Wilderness Girls’ fearless regional leader, Velda Plendor, and the Red Feathers? Can’t leave out Tori Spelling.
B: How could I forget Velda and the Red Feathers? They are every popular girl clique ever, but in a twist, they mock the fashionable rich girls instead of being them. I would say it’s subversive, but if there’s anything the ’80s love more than celebrating rich excesses, it’s pretending not to celebrate rich excesses. And speaking of rich excesses, how about pre-90210 Tori Spelling hating on the fashionable richies in this movie? It doesn’t really suit her, she was kind of always destined to be sweet, kind Donna Martin. I must note here that credit should be given to me for (mostly) controlling the urge to shout DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES every time she was on the screen.
My thoughts on Velda are more brief. She’s the worst and I don’t like her.
AM, did we miss anything? Or can we consider ourselves honorary Wilderness Girls now?
A: Velda is a caricature of a villainous leader, but I enjoyed her because she’s every “opposing coach” from all my childhood movies: evil for the sake of winning, not because she’s actually that much of a jerk. I do love the cap on the movie, showing Velda working at Kmart, which stands in for every awful job anyone has ever had, and the specific job she threatened her underling with at every chance. #Justice
I am tickled that you enjoyed this movie so much, because like I said, it’s the best thing ever. We’re absolutely Wilderness Girls now.
Next time we’re watching a picture that will almost certainly prove to be a less popular choice. But AM did agree to one “horror-adjacent” film per calendar year …