Monday, January 07, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Starstruck

Starstruck (1982) 10/10
Aspiring singer Jackie (Jo Kennedy) and her aggressive young cousin Angus (Ross O'Donovan) will do anything to make Jackie a star. Can they win the big prize money on a pop show competition in time to pay Jackie's mom's debt, and save the family pub?

Starstruck delights me and thrills me and makes me all giddy inside. Roberta and I saw it in the theater in 1982 and we fell mad in love with it, and then it disappeared. No one saw it or had really much heard of it since. We each bought the soundtrack and played it to death. And now I've got the special edition DVD and I am so pleased to be able to report that I wasn't wrong in 1982, it's as wonderful as I remembered and more so.

There's only one description for Starstruck, and I've been using it for twenty-five years: It's an Australian New Wave Andy Hardy musical. Save mom's store (pub) by singing in the big show with fun musical numbers and oh, look a romance! So it was gratifying to see the extras, where director Gillian Armstrong and writer Stephen MacLean describe it in exactly those terms.

So what else can I say? It's a brightly colored, delightfully homey indie film, that was just a little before its time. Had it been released in 1983 or 1984, I think it would have been a hit. It was MTV style before MTV, funky Aussie family life before Muriel's Wedding, with distinctive production design by Rocky Horror's Brian Thompson.

There's something about it that's campy, except that campy is the wrong word. It's the word that comes to mind for something that's over the top, a little surreal, and very playful. But camp suggests sarcasm or mockery or so-bad-it's-good, and there's only one scene that goes down that road even a little. It's And inviting. It's a movie that wants you to step into its world and enjoy the ride.

The cast is all unknowns and newcomers, and sometimes the acting is a little rough around the edges, but again, everyone is having fun, and the performers all have enormous conviction. They throw themselves into their roles with abandon.

The subplots are throwaway, in exactly the right way for a musical. Jackie and Angus are "Siamese cousins;" Angus's mother is dead (I think?) and his father abandoned him, so he and Jackie have lived together as siblings since he was ten (he's 14, she's 18). They are delightful together, full of in-jokes and shticks that feel authentically silly. He fancies himself a music promoter, and comes up with bold and outrageous schemes to make Jackie famous. Jackie is clothing-obsessed, boy-crazy, and loves to sing, but pretty clearly wouldn't know how to promote herself without her cousin.

One night Jackie gets on-stage in a local battle of the bands, and ends up spending the night with a guitar player from another band. It was a one-nighter for her, but he tracks her down when one of Angus's schemes gets her on the local news. Meanwhile, the scheme brings her to the attention of the host of a local music show, and she's after the big prize money as well as the host. There's also a financial threat to the bar, a romance for Jackie's mother, and more. It all adds to the frantic pacing but it's never hard to follow.

The musical numbers are joyful and dynamic and memorable.

Rating systems are weird. Is it really a 10 out of 10? What it is, is strongly recommended. Go! See! This! Movie!