I watched Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion last night for the first time since it was out — almost two decades ago. My response to it this time was exactly as it was the first time I saw it. It’s an incredibly funny and charming film. At the same time, it’s a structural mess. About 50 minutes in, the film inserts a ten minute long dream sequence. That’s a little strange, but it’s followed by a non-dream sequence that is, if anything, more unbelievable. I remember when first watching it thinking that it too was a dream sequence.
This is all unfortunate, because the screenplay does an admirable job of tying up loose ends. I think the problem is that the second act depends upon Romy and Michele having a fight, and it is hard to imagine the two of them staying mad at each other. Hence: a dream sequence! In the reality of the film, the two only manage to stay mad at each other during the end of the drive to the reunion. The moment that Romy finds herself in an embarrassing situation, Michele runs to her assistance. And that is the heart of the film: the strength of these two women’s friendship.
Although both Romy and Michele are airheads, they are also classic nerds. As many of you know, my definition of a nerd is someone who is so interested in whatever they do that they don’t realize how uncool they are. All the two of them are aware of is that they are not part of “the A group,” but it doesn’t occur to them that they uncool. And that’s good, because they are cool. They are having a good time doing what they enjoy. For me, the high point of the film is when Michele (the more clueless of the two) tells Romy:
And in addition to everything else, they are very creative. For 12 years and probably more, they’ve been designing and sewing their own clothes. That’s where the nerd factor really comes in because that is an activity that is unusual, but which seems to them like fish to water: of course they would make their own clothes. It doesn’t matter to me, but being a movie, they must get social acceptance for it, so the Vogue editor compliments them, “They have nice lines. A fun, frisky use of color.”
There are lots of other aspects of the film. All the nerds triumph in life while while the cool kids mostly don’t. And there is the fact that everyone is horrible to each other — even the heroines. Although it is hard to see it as serious. For example, the two of them make fun of the film Pretty Woman, but Michele cries at one point, “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop.”
But the main aspect of the film besides friendship is female empowerment. Even star quarterback Billy Christensen is subordinate to mean girl and alpha A group member Christie Masters. But even nerd turned billionaire Sandy Frink is just there for plot purposes. Once Romy and Michele get in his helicopter, you don’t even see him. And at the end, although he has loaned them the money to start their own clothing boutique, he’s nowhere to be seen. It is just Romy and Michele and the foul-mouthed, chain smoking, cynical Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo) buying probably the first piece of non-black clothes in her life. As Michele says, “For me, it’s like I’ve just given birth to my own baby girl, except she’s like a big giant girl who smokes and says ‘shit’ a lot. You know?” I do. These two are more iconic than Thelma and Louise.