Friday, October 8, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. VI: Enter Howie!


Easily the most offensive scene in the whole movie. Maybe this goes beyond my life experience, but the most slavishly money-and-status worshipping families I’ve known have all been WASPs. I’m sure there are large Jewish families who revel in their wealth, but the Beamishs really take the knish. They should be an entire exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance.

Pa Beamish (the great caper-flick character actor, Martin Balsam – check out his work in the original Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and The Anderson Tapes) stands before his family by their tacky-elegant McMansion fireplace, prattling on about his growing greeting card empire, which seems to have swallowed the entire family save for Wend: “And this is our first store, built in 1953. We now have 24 Cardaterias—the largest greeting cards franchise in the East!” After silently coming in his pants, Pa recovers quick enough to ask FuckFace: “What line are you in?” FuckFace, already trashed, replies: “Munitions.” Wendy thinks this is hilarious. What an enabler!

Meanwhile, Wendy’s rigidly coiffed yenta sisters pester her about moving out of the house (wait wait, she still lives at home?): “Don't bring up moving out. Daddy'll have a heart attack in front of your boyfriend.”
WENDY: He's not my boyfriend!
LIBBY: Well, then there's a nice young guy working for us. Howie Krantz!
Just by his name, we know he’s going to be a dud. Poor Howie! Stranded at the card shop, Branded a foooool....

Cut to Ma Beamish (Joyce Van Patten, sister of Dick and relic from the world of 70s TV) as she anal-retentively oversees the table-setting, which she invokes as some sort of ancient tradition (“Candace, do like grandmother did. In the centre of the plate, neatly.”) Wendy gives her a squeeze and tells her she looks beautiful. Ma Beamish kvetches “I'm fat, I'm thin. I'm blond, I'm brunette” like a really bad Jackie Mason imitation. Here we discover the origin of Wend’s body-image problems, which FuckFace will mess up beyond repair in a few minutes. “Well, you always wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor, and now you do,” Wend says hopefully, then moves carefully away to tell FuckFace: “My mother finds certain words too horrible to she whispers them. You'll get used to it.”

Cut to a very uncomfortable dinner,* spearheaded by Ma Beamish’s signature tic: “Did you hear about Betty Rothberg?” (Whispers loudly) “Cancer!”
*When I was about Bill—uh, FuckFace’s age, I attended a dinner very much like this one. It was with some beautiful but clinically insane wild rich chick who looked (to me) like the actress Sherilyn Fenn. We had met on the U of M campus and wound up taking the day off and driving over to the river town of Stillwater, Minnesota and got absolutely shitfaced at some outdoor tavern overlooking the Mississippi. She casually slurred she had a dinner to go to and would I like to come? Hell yeah! So she phones her family and tells them she’s bringing home “a teaching assistant from my Lingusitics class.” We showed up quite noticeably drunk and I met what turned out to be her whole family around a massive round table, with an extra place set for me, “the T.A.” I was seated near this woman’s sister, who very much like the Beamish Stepford wives was a sort of snarkily and vocally disapproving of her little sister. I was at that point of drunkenness where I thought I was being very clever and made up an entire story of how this girl and I had attended a “Linguistics Mixer” to celebrate the last day of the semester. This chick’s sister watched me though slitted eyes the whole time, sizing me up. The pervading wisdom at the table was that it was about time that she had hooked up with what appeared to be a very responsible and polite young man—for a change. In other words, I was her Howie Krantz!!

WENDY’S A-HOLE BROTHER-IN-LAW: Say, Bill, the day I married Rachel I got three Card-a-terias. I just bought a new BMW!
MA BEAMISH: Betty's daughter moved into the new neighbourhood. Only six Jewish families. (Whispers loudly) But very wealthy!*
*Again, another eerily similar story from my past: one of my mother’s old school rich lady friends saying: “Oh, we just loooove our new neighborhood!” before whispering behind her hand: “There are no black people there!” I mean, WOW…

Sure, make the Beamishs slavish materialists, but why make them so hideous and gargoyle-like? Why pile on the money-grubbing Shylock stereotypes? Here we are put in the odd position of actually sympathizing with FuckFace, especially when he’s asked “Where did you meet Wendy again?” and he responds (whispering loudly and sloppily pouring himself a generous glass of wine): “Prison.” Wendy can't get enough of him!

Cut to Pa Beamish peeling off a couple hundred off his thick bankroll and handing it to Wendy, telling his youngest tochter: “If you'd get married and run a franchise, you wouldn't have to borrow money.” He obviously doesn’t take her job working with the rank-and-file seriously: “It's killing time until you get married.” Wendy responds by asking for her own apartment. Billy interrupts this by climbing up onto the roof of the mansion and thus creating another inexplicable scene.

Wendy, already soaking wet, climbs out on the roof: “This is so great! All the years we lived here, no one ever did this!” FuckFace, thinking he’s Jim Morrison or something, cradling a glass of bourbon, replies: “I used to do it all the time. At the frat house, I'd crawl out of Alec's window on the roof with my horn.” Where’s yer sax now, Billy? Down on Planet Earth, the Beamish clan is fuhhh-reeeeking out. Says Ma B: “I knew it the minute he came in.” (loud whisper) “Drugs!”

Wendy is comforting FuckFace: “You miss school, don't you?”
*"Out of hand" becomes Billy's tag line throughout the film, which is lame until you consider the original: “This is awesome!”

He mimics falling off the side of the building, then pulls back with a roguish grin. What an asshole. Wendy, for no reason, is frightened, then thrilled (seemingly bypassing “angry”): “Well, that's pretty out of hand!” Yes it is! You are basically turned on by FuckFace’s death wish. How messed up is that? This girl’s got an evil streak a mile long and two miles deep!

Then, occurs one of the strangest segues I’ve ever seen in movie dialogue. See if you can follow this:

FUCKFACE: Ever think about it?
WENDY: Not while I'm still a virgin.

Ever think about what? Dying?! Offing yourself? Are we to believe that Wendy won’t commit suicide until she’s been deflowered? What a couple of sick puppies! If they actually got together, this pair might turn out to be an American version of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.*
*British serial thrill-killers of the mid-1960s

F‘Face is stunned by this revelation.

FUCKFACE: Come on. I mean, all those guys you went out with...Stewie Newman?
WENDY: Oh, please. Would you do it with Stewie Newman?*
*“A Stewie can do your income taxes. If you need a root canal, Stewie's your man...but humpin' and pumpin' is not Stewie's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Stewie, you're an animal Stewie, ride me big Stewie.' Doesn't work.”

Poor Stewie – the proto-Howie. I imagine Jonah Hill with giant glasses and green teeth.

Very abrupt, porn-film style cut to what looks to be the Beamish library – kind of an ironic place for our young lunkhead  – as Wendy and FuckFace finally get down to getting’ down. FuckFace, holding TWO glasses of liquor, almost knocks over a lamp while doing an Elmer Fudd impression: “Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbit.” True to life, there’s a lot of apologizing in this scene.

They finally get down to making out and FuckFace, in rare form, goes right for her breast, nestled under one of Wendy’s unsexy puffy sweaters. FuckFace discovers her rubber fat suit while going right for her Secret Garden and gives it a loud ‘snap’ against her thigh. “What the hell is that?” he exclaims. “It's your scuba suit.”

Yes, that’s how quickly you can blow it with a chick. You can almost hear the whistle of a beach toy deflating. Then FF makes it even worse: “Wend, I'm really sorry. You're allowed to have fun when you're screwing.” Jesus! Yahweh! Did they hire Kirk Kelly and Ram Sweeney from Heathers to script-doctor all of Billy’s wonderfully tasteless and insensitive remarks?

Wendy, hurt beyond belief, peeps: “I don't think we should see each other anymore.” She leaves money for his rent on the stairwell banister and walks upstairs. Of course, FuckFace takes the money.


My favorite scene for a cornucopia of reasons: first off, the band the band the BAND. “Billy Hixx and the New Breed.”*Hah. Playing the Springsteen-esque “One Love” with FuckFace chewing up the stage with an impossibly prolonged sax solo that even Clarence Clemons couldn’t pull off if he swallowed a truckload of steroids. He goes on and on and on. The song apparently has no lyrics, just ‘One Love” sung by a guitarist with silly 80s hair that resembles a Chia-yamulke. (Apparently, Don Was is playing bass.) Again, the 80s-film’s lack of restraint: Billy just can’t be a good musician; he has to be protean, the BEST; he can’t just be part of the band, he has to be leading it; he can’t just play a quick, great solo, he has to dominate the entire scene. Billy’s entire presence in the movie can be summed up in this scene: loud, sweaty, obnoxious, fetid, full of himself, blowing his horn in everybody’s face and shaking his sweat all over the chicks in the front row (um, eww).
*The band is the real life band of Mare Winningham’s brother Patrick

"Let's rock!!"

The gang bursts into a bustling bar party, all dressed identically in suits and ties and Groucho Marx glasses. (For this scene, I kinda wished they had dressed like Devo.)

LESLIE: I wanna meet the woman who's turning Kirbo Kaeger into a doctor.
KIRBO: Hey, I've been an amateur gynecologist for years.

This seems like a line FuckFace would say, but he’s got the horn buried up to his tonsils,* so Kirbo, our resident apple-cheeked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed psycho, picks up the slack. What the girls don’t realize is that he’s deadly serious: he has a stolen medical bag under his bed complete with specuulum and enema bag filled with Hawaiian Punch. Thing good thoughts, think good thoughs….
*Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks & Recreation recently told Under the Radar: “I’m a very intermediate sax player, but now that Rob Lowe is on my show, I had to cop to him. Like, ‘Dude your ridiculous fake sax playing [in St. Elmo’s Fire] inspired me to pick up a horn.’”

Jules, who has crimped hair from a Belgian waffle maker and silver lipstick, drops a drunken bombshell: “Leslie, did I tell you? I thought I was getting fired. Instead, my boss took me to dinner!”

LESLIE: Jules, I told you're not gonna start bopping your boss.
JULES: Too late! I'm gonna dance!

“Dancing” for Jules means elbowing her way to the stage and strapping herself on top of the jukebox and riding it like it was a Sybian machine. Her and FuckFace share a gross and greasy soul kiss. Alec, meanwhile, is dropping a bigger load on Kev:

ALEC: Can I borrow a key to your apartment tomorrow? The lingerie salesgirl has been calling me at the office.
KEVIN: You gotta learn to say no, pal.
ALEC: When Leslie says yes, I’ll say no.

Yes! It’s just that easy! Alec has already at his newborn-chick phase perfected the political talent of “compartmentalization” when it comes to sexual peccadilloes, instantly becoming a hero to many future American politicians like William Jefferson Clinton, Elliott Spitzer, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, Gary Hart, Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoworth, Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, Dan Burton, Rudy Giuliani, Gary Condit, Jim McGreevy, James West, Don Sherwood, Newt Gingrich, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villagarosa, David Vitter, Tim Mahoney, David Patterson, Vito Fossella, Kawame Kilpatrick, Bob Packwod, John Ensign….anyway, you get the point. The salient fact that Alec has just crossed the river over to the conservative side seems to bode well for his sex scandal potential.

Enter Howie Krantz (Jon Cutler)! Howie to me is the most interesting character besides Kevin and the yet-to-be-introduced Mr. Kim: he’s the stand in for the rest of us, he’s the indication of the smugness of the characters and the writers, he’s a sweet natured polite unassuming guy, a bit chubby, kind of prematurely rumpled, the kind of guy who could spend hours combing his hair and still leave a cowlick standing straight up in back and one shirt collar sticking out of his sweater. He’s doomed and branded from the moment he meets this noxious nest of culture vultures – a sort of Schlemiel-by-proxy who basically would be us if we hung out with Schumacher and his Hollywood- type friends. Apparently, wearing glasses all the time versus wearing them stylishly for specific tasks is a cardinal sin for which one can never ever be forgiven. Even Wendy looks like she can barely stand being seen with him, like she’s being escorted by a giant turd with excellent manners. Welcome to the 80s.

WENDY: This is Howie Krantz. Howie, Kevin Dolenz.
HOWIE: How do you do?
ALEC: Alec Newberry.
HOWIE: (glasses sliding down his nose as he shakes Alec’s hand) Alec? Nice to meet you!
ALEC: You wanna sit with us?
HOWIE: Oh, great. That'd be great.
ALEC: Great!

Alec delivers this last line mockingly. That’s all it takes with this craven coven, to say the word “great!’ one too many times because you’re a bit nervous in meeting these wonderful people your barely new girlfriend is always prattling on about.

HOWIE: I'm in the greeting cards business. I work for Wendy's brother-in-law.
ALEC: Humongous future in greeting cards!

Alec looks at Kevin as he says this, giving him a sarcastic smile: Can you believe this schmuck? Is he for real? Let’s keep him around for laughs! Oh Howie, run away now! You are too good for this room!

The Gaykren makes a reappearance, ostensibly to hook up with poor Kevin, who eyes him suspiciously. At the same time, FuckFace’s wife Felice (Jenny Wright) and some lummox in a leather bomber jacket who looks like the evil dojo sensei from The Karate Kid amble into the bar. She’s dressed like a flapper from the 1920s; he’s dressed like a dick. Onstage, FuckFace is really getting into himself (“Let's rock!”). He eyes a pretty young thing at the edge of the stage and immediately goes for her by sticking the bell of his horn directly in her face and melting it with a LOUD solo. Seconds later, he spots Felice with her paramour and immediately stops playing with no pause for breath:

FUCKFACE: Take your hands off my wife.
FELICE: Your wife? You're not married to me. You're married to your friends and the bar!
FUCKFACE: I said get your hands off my wife!

Is he kidding?

Blammo, Senor Face drops his horn, dives off the stage and punches Felice’s date. They fall to the floor (thank god the band stops playing) and we immediately see that despite his being born with a mouth his bar fight skills are sorely lacking. The other dude’s much bigger and soon has Billy on the floor and is punching his face with wonderful precision. Ah Billy’s one of those – a guy who starts fights who can’t fight. There is pandemonium and at last Wally St. Elmo grows a pair and fires Billy on the spot. Jules grabs the Gaykren, who utters yet another clichéd line: “I just had my nose done!” If anybody notices, our gallant Howie is making a big show of blocking Wendy from the violence, like nervous father shepherding his kids away from a vaguely creepy dude in the park. This is supposed to come off as geeky – and it is – but sweet nonetheless. He’s in over his head.

Outside St. Elmo’s, Lowe probably has his best acting moment of his career:

FUCKFACE: Goddamn it! I'll tell you, I should have had a vasectomy at birth! I'll tell you something now, Al, if you ever have boys, you'll just do them a favour and get them neutered right away! If they knock up some little sluts, they're the ones who are really fucked! Fucked for life! I hate you, you little bitch!!

Wow. For once, the innate crudeness of the script serves this scene well. Lowe delivers it in such a rageful shriek you wonder if he’s been playing possum in the film to prepare for this Big Acting Moment. (Did he expect to be nominated for an Oscar?) However, this is cut short by Felice’s date sucker-kicking him into the gutter, where he’s obviously most at home. Then, as abruptly as it began, it’s over, supplanted by a moment that’s as emotionally complex as this film will ever get. Double-F and Felice lunge for each other and have sloppy makeup kissing in front of the gathered crowd, the blood on his face smearing all over her lips (ugh!) and everybody goes "Awwww!" and applauds. But their scene rings false: their reunion too abrupt, too desperate, to manufactured, the hatred displayed too noxious to be dispelled this quickly (shades of Teen Mom). Nobody in the gang seems to be buying it.

LESLIE: You just go ahead with your evening with Howie.
JULES: Yes. No matter what he looks like.

They all laugh. Ah hah hah aha ha!

Howie, please, run away now.

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