Top That!

My wife is 33 years old today, and as a special birthday present (don’t worry, I’m not so much of a cheap-ass that I think that this is a good replacement for an actual gift), I decided that instead of focusing on something that is important to me, I would do an entry on something in pop culture that “matters” to her. 

Now, there are lots of things and I’m sure that I could dig through her iTunes library and pick a song or an album or thumb through one of the many books she’s read or is reading.  But I’ve decided to go with a movie here and not just any movie, but the 1989 Robyn Lively cult classic, Teen Witch.

That’s right, my wife is one of the many who have seen Teen Witch (probably during one of the many thousands of times it has popped up on cable in the last two decades) and has a definitely love for it, so much so that yesterday morning, my son and I were watching an advertisement for the newfangled version of The Electric Company and she asked if we were watching the film. 

And I guess if I weren’t me, I would not understand why she loves the movie so much.  But considering that I actually own a copy of Megaforce, her love of Teen Witch makes perfect sense.  It also reinforces that she’s a true 1980s fan, something I’ve never called into question, but I’ve come across so many superficial Eighties fans since … oh, The Wedding Singer first came out (mostly students of mine who weren’t even freaking born in the 1980s, which … uh, no, I don’t think so.  Go back to your shitty emo vampires and your Miley, kiddies) … that I think that there are certain pieces of 1980s pop culture that can be held up as benchmarks of “Eighties Cred.”  And Teen Witch is clearly one of those benchmarks.

Why?  Because it has nobody who’s really well-known (read: no Coreys), it’s insanely cheesy, and in spite of that (or maybe because of that) you just can’t get it out of your freakin’ head after you’ve watched it.  Seriously, come across it on cable one night and see if you don’t wind up looking at the clock and realize that 45 minutes have gone by, especially if you drop in the middle of one of the jaw-dropping musical numbers.  Oh that’s right, I said musical numbers.  Teen Witch is almost like the “girl Megaforce.” 

Robyn Lively, aka "Teen Witch"

Originally conceived as a female version of Teen Wolf (yeah!  I know!) but tweaked to feature a witch instead of a werewolf (Hence the title .  And I’m sure I’ll hit Teen Wolf at some point … Team Scott!), Teen Witch stars Robyn Lively as Louise Miller, a nerdy, unpopular girl who discovers that she is the latest in a long line of witches and in typical “ugly duckling” storyline fashion, she uses her powers to help her gain popularity as well as the dreamboat she’s been lusting after, Brad (Dan Gauthier, who I’ve only seen in one other role–as Chip, a guy from high school that Monica dates on an episode of Friends for one episode).

A word on Robyn Lively, btw.  If you recognize the name, or at least recognize the face it’s because she’s one of two redheads who popped up in quite a few television or movie roles during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Most notably, Lively played Ralph Macchio’s love interest in The Karate Kid, Part III and was the object of a psycho guy named Mike’s affection in one of my favorite episodes of 21 Jump Street

Stacy Haiduk, aka Lana Lang

Lively’s competition in the “hottest rehead of the 1980s hangover period is Stacy Haiduk, who has a pretty solid career as a character actress in television but will always be remembered by comic geeks as Lana Lang on the syndicated The Adventures of Superboy (and was a waaaaaaay hotter Lana than Kristen Kruek was on Smallville).  Truth be told, it’s a toss-up:   Haiduk’s got the geek fantasy cred, but Lively’s freakin’ Teen Witch.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, my wife.  And the plot.  Well, as I mentioned, Louise’s life is not unlike that of another redhead in a film from earlier in the decade–Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles.  Nobody knows she exists, she has an annoying-as-shit younger brother (who kind of looks like Adam Powell from Charles in Charge and is nowhere nearly as charming as Justin Henry), and clueless parents (although props to the casting director who got Dick “The Other Darren” Sergeant to play her dad, and props to wardrobe for his never-ending parade of Cosby sweaters).  She’s even got an equally dorky best friend, Polly (Amanda Ingber, who I’ve only seen in an episode of Charles in Charge where she plays Enid, a girl who undergoes an “ugly duckling” transformation of her own).

So we spend the first twenty minutes or so of the movie seeing how embarrassing Louise’s daily life is.  She’s tortured by the popular crowd and her teachers, even though she’s an honors student who obviously has a bright future ahead of her, and has the misfortune of attending a high school that looks like it was the prototype for Bayside High.  I’m sure that whenever my wife is watching this movie and gets a little bored from time to time, she starts counting the number of saxaphone solos on the soundtrack or the amount of Z. Cavaricci distributed by the wardrobe department.  Seriously, it’s like New Jersey threw up all over that high school.

Of course, since this is a PG-13 movie, the hormones can fly a little more than the chaste kisses that would get a “WOOOOOOOO!” from SBTB’s studio audience.  During the first third of the movie, the popular girls in the locker room, who are all wearing the purple high-cut leotards that are the school’s gym uniforms (that is, if they’re not in their underwear) burst into a song and dance number called “I Like Boys,” during half of which the girls look like they’re desperately trying to remember to lip synch while not falling off the top of their gym lockers.  This number, including the fact that there were three characters who did nothing but burst into rap and rhyme at every chance, made me write “Is this a MUSICAL?!” and “Grease 3?” in my notes.

After all of that, Louise winds up riding her bike home one night and Brad and his hot, blonde girlfriend, Randa, who are Rollin’ in his 5.0, with his rag-top down so their hair can blow, the girlies on standby waving just to say hi.  Did they stop? No they just drove by, kept on pursuing to the next stop. They busted a left and they’re heading to the next block. The block was dead, yo so they continued to A1A BEACHFRONT AVENUE! 

Oh, and they nearly run Louise over.  She begins walking home with a flat tire and when it starts to rain seeks refuge in the house of Serena, a psychic, played by Zelda “the creepy lady from Poltergeist” Rubenstein, who spends half the movie reading her lines off of cue cards, and who reads Louise’s palm only to learn that Louise is actually a witch and her powers are just starting to come in.

Only in movies does this shit happen, btw.  I mean, there’s a psychic reader on Route 29 a few miles from my house, but I’m sure that: a) if I went in there, I wouldn’t find out anything like that; and b) I’m 100% sure that place is a bordello anyway. 

Anyway, the plot goes into the ever-predictable Can’t Buy Me Love direction.  Louise uses her magical powers to get back at a few people and make herself popular, which in turn, gets Brad to fall in love with her.  And as in that particular movie, in which McDreamy gets his come-uppance in the third act, Louise learns to be careful what you wish for.  But not before we get a musical number that is one of the greatest musical numbers in cinematic history, “Top That”:

This particular scene MAKES this movie.  So much so that it actually got referenced on 30 Rock a couple of seasons ago.  I mean, you don’t get much more brilliant than that.

As far as the rest of the plot goes, Louise finds out that her newfound popularity is over-the-top to the point where she wakes up one morning to find people on her front lawn cheering for her for no reason except that she’s popular.  I mean, we do get a pretty sweet montage to some song about being the most popular girl in the world that is right out of a Sprite commercial, but for the most part, she goes from wanting to be popular to being popular to wanting to not be popular in about fifteen minutes.  And in order to return life to normal and reverse this spell, she has to give up her powers.

She decides to do this at prom (natch), and after Serena tells her some crap about how the real magic is believing in yourself and if you can do that you can make anything possible, she walks proudly into the prom, tosses away the amulet that was the source of all of her powers and still gets the guy.  All of this, by the way, is done while half the characters are “slow dancing” as if they are doing a Mia Michaels contemporary routine on So You Think You Can Dance.  And while this happy ending does not involve Louise losing her shit and killing everyone in the room out of revenge for prior treatment, a la Carrie, I have to hand it to Teen Witch for keeping its cheesy tone all the way through.

Which brings me back to my wife.  When we were dating back in college, we went to and watched a lot of movies, especially the many weekends we spent at her parents’ house.  This was in the late 1990s when the nostalgia for the Eighties was starting to take hold and while I can’t remember if we ever came across Teen Witch during this time, the fact that she didn’t shy away from the cheesiness found in the popular culture of our childhood made, and still makes her completely awesome.  So I hope that I did Teen Witch justice and Happy Birthday!

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