50 Movies for 50 States: Week 40 – Pennsylvania, Film – Mannequin

Week 40 – Pennsylvania

Mannequin (1987), a Gladden Entertainment production, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Michael Gottlieb, written by Edward Rugoff and Michael Gottlieb, with Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, Estelle Getty, James Spader, G.W. Bailey, Carole Davis, Steve Vinovich, Christopher Maher and Meshach Taylor, cinematography by Tim Suhrstedt, original music by Sylvester Levay

Agalmatophilia is a paraphilia concerned with the sexual attraction to a statue, doll or other non-living humanoid representation.

Mannequin is not about a man with agalmatophilia, but it would be a whole lot cooler if it was. Instead, the film’s introductory scene explains that, once upon a time in Ancient Egypt, a beautiful maiden was about to married to a camel dung merchant when she wished to the gods to take her away from a future in the dung trade. The gods answered her request and she is sent thousands of years forward in time to Philadelphia, circa 1987. The catch: She’s trapped inside the body of a department store mannequin. Although the fair-skinned Egyptian lass can transform into human form when she’s around the mannequin’s sculptor, the curse is that when anyone else is around, she reverts back to a dummy.

Now, imagine if you will, if we were not given that explanation. Imagine if we were forced to decide whether the sculptor whose creation “came to life” actually was experiencing some kind of magical occurrence, or if the sculptor was just mentally ill. What if the artist, for whatever reason, is simply using the store mannequin as a coping mechanism because of his inability to communicate with real people?

There are various signs in Mannequin that point toward Andrew McCarthy’s character, Jonathan Switcher, being a person with agalmatophilia. Even before his creation comes to life, whether through magic or in his head, Switcher is clearly a strange cat. When we first meet him, he’s singing and dancing while assembling what would become his future love interest. We then learn that it’s taken him almost a week to put together just one mannequin, at which point his boss fires him due to his serious lack of productivity. After that, we get a montage (and, believe me, this film loves montages), of Switcher being fired from various jobs because of what appears to be an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, at the expense of actually getting work done. Finally, we see an unemployed Switcher overcome with joy when he discovers that the mannequin which he has devoted a month of his life to creating is being displayed in the store window of a local department store. At this point, Switcher declares that he finally feels like an artist.

Is Switcher any different than the RealDoll enthusiasts featured in the BBC documentary, Guys and Dolls? These men whose lives revolve around dressing up and posing $5,000 sex dolls. To Switcher, his creation is alive. Have you ever seen Lars and The Real Girl? “Oh, but it’s not like he has sex with the mannequin.”

Spoiler alert. He does.

Indeed, Mannequin would have been a whole lot more interesting had there been more ambiguity regarding Switcher’s relationship with Emmy, the mannequin. Instead, the opening scene set 5,000 years in the past seems tacked on. There’s hardly any other mention of Emmy’s origins throughout the movie. So why is it there? Because, god forbid, the audience might think of Switcher as being kind of a pervert.

What’s so wrong with that? The funniest scenes in the movie – the scenes which I begrudgingly admit I laughed out loud to – involved people thinking that Switcher is a pervert … which he’s not, of course … because of the whole Egypt-thing. Still, answer me this: What kind of person can’t find humor in the scene where the department store security guard, Switcher’s ex-girlfriend and the sex-crazed Middle Eastern guy who’s trying to get into her pants, walk in on Switcher making-out with his dummy lover in her non-animated state? Or the reaction of Hollywood, the flamboyantly gay, when he comes across a similar scene?

What I’m trying to say is that Mannequin is entertaining. Horrible and cliched, but entertaining. Shockingly, it’s gotten better with time. Maybe because it’s such a good time capsule movie. You’ve got the rock and roll montages, the bad clothes (the spandex, the big hair). Then, of course, there’s Hollywood – the shrieking, prancing extra-terrestrial whose over-the-top mannerisms and one-liners (“Does this outfit make my thighs look big?”) probably stands as one of the most politically-incorrect portrayal of a gay man in a mainstream film ever. In fact, I would argue that the character of Hollywood (played by Meshach Taylor, a heterosexual), in one glittery swoop, may have undone any progress made in the 1980s toward mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians. This is doubly true for gay black men. So, back in the closet with you, RuPaul. See you in about six years, at which time hopefully we’ll have forgotten all about this minstrel show.

On a side note, it’s ironic that, Michael Gottlieb – the director of Mannequin – shares the same name as a prominent AIDS researcher.

Mannequin is offensive – to gays, to people from the Middle East, to Egyptians, to anyone with half a brain cell. Siskel & Ebert were right to give it two thumbs down. It’s a bad movie. Gottlieb would go on to direct more bad movies, including 1993’s Mr. Nanny, with Hulk Hogan. Andrew McCarthy is seriously the worst actor ever. Everything he touches turns to crap. What’s up with his eyes? It’s like they only have two positions — closed and really, really wide open. Kim Cattrall, who plays the mannequin, is young and pretty in Mannequin but, if you look closely enough, you can begin to see the hag she would become later in life.

Counterpoint: Mannequin was an insanely popular movie. It’s also an Academy Award-nominated movie, because of the horrible horrible song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” by Starship. Additionally, it’s noteworthy for being one of the only movies featuring James Spader which doesn’t cast Spader as a slimy yuppy. While his character, an upper-management type at the department store where McCarthy’s character works, is slimy, he’s not a yuppy but a geek – and for Spader, that’s range.

I also had a lot of fun picking out the various Philadelphia locations where the movie was filmed. Messiah College alumni and Harrisburg-area might be interested in knowing that the scenes filmed at the rival department store, Illustra, were filmed at the Boscov’s department store at the Camp Hill Mall/ Mannequin was not filmed at Woolworth’s, as the band Ween sings in “Freedom of ’76” but at the former Wanamaker’s on Chestnut Street, now a Macy’s.

My final verdict is that Mannequin is it’s mostly stupid, harmless fun – except were when it’s being completely offensive. I don’t feel as though I can recommend it, but I’m not not going to recommend it. So, there you go. A wishy-washy opinion for sub-par 1980’s outing. Watch it for what it’s worth and you probably won’t be too disappointed.

Next week: Hoffman and Franz

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