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February 24, 2021

‘90s Films About Hideous Women Finding Love

The 1991 River Phoenix/Lili Taylor vehicle, Dogfight, could only be construed as a romance by a certain sort of person, namely an awkward teenage girl with low self-esteem and no sense of her own narrative beyond being a character in someone else’s story. Who is content to sit around waiting for a boy with a pretty face to saunter over and ask her on a date—even if the only reason he’s asking is to win a bet with his friends as to which of them can pick up the ugliest girl.

 The movie takes place in San Francisco, 1963, the night before the Kennedy assassination, which is also the night before Phoenix’s character, Eddie Birdlace, a Marine, ships out to Vietnam. He brings Taylor’s Rose to the “dogfight,” and not only fails to win the bet, but Rose ends up slugging him when she gets wise to the ruse. Which, of course, provokes his interest—turns out Rose is more than an ugly face. And the two proceed to spend a Before Sunrise-ish night in each other’s company, Rose managing to project a sense of humanity onto Birdlace’s bland exterior, so that it seems kind of sweet that they end up sleeping together. Birdlace promising to write to her, but then he tears up Rose’s address the next morning as his bus pulls away, and now the 1960s proper can finally begin.

 If Dogfight wasn’t hope enough for weird girls with problems applying eye-makeup or fitting unruly bodies into pretty dresses that one day they too could be used and abused by a fellow with A-List good looks, along comes 1995’s Circle of Friends, based on the novel by Maeve Binchy. This time, the absolute dog is Minnie Driver who inexplicably draws the eye of Chris O’Donnell, a Hollywood Chris before Hollywood Chris’s were even a thing. Set in 1950s’ Dublin, their unlikely pairing invites disbelief—Driver’s Benny was supposed to end up with a very greasy character played by Alan Cumming—and then it all goes wrong when Benny’s conventionally attractive friend tricks O’Donnell’s Jack into having sex with her and pins her accidental pregnancy on him. In the movie, unlike the book, Benny eventually takes Jack back, however, because—obviously—such a girl can’t afford to be picky.

 If Dogfight wasn’t hope enough for weird girls with problems applying eye-makeup or fitting unruly bodies into pretty dresses that one day they too could be used and abused by a fellow with A-List good looks, along comes 1995’s Circle of Friends

The 1994 cult fave Muriel’s Wedding also falls into this peculiar genre, but at least with a high degree of self-awareness. Dumpy Muriel (played gorgeously by Toni Collette in her breakout role) wants nothing more than a dream wedding and a love story as rousing as an ABBA song—apparently she never listened very carefully to the lyrics of songs like “Waterloo” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” She finally schemes her way to a happily-ever-after with marriage to a hunky South African swimmer with a face so plastic he makes Chris O’Donnell look like a character actor. Eventually a series of tragedies makes Muriel realize that her priorities are shallow, and she discovers that female friendship can give us the real loves of our lives. But in the meantime, she has managed to consummate her marriage with the swimmer—score one for the ugly chick!

 It’s another bet that kicks off She’s All That (1999), perhaps the most defining film of this kind. Big man on high school campus Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) suffers a comedown when his girlfriend dumps him for a cast member of MTV’s The Real World, and then he accepts his best friend’s challenge to turn the most unlikely girl at school into a prom queen. The girl? Lainey Boggs, played by Rachael Leigh Cook, an artsy dork who finds Zack and his friends insufferable and falls down a lot. But it also turns out—and get this—that when she takes her glasses off, she’s actually hot, and this helps Zack realize (as River Phoenix and Chris O’Donnell did before him) that this weird looking chick might be the only real thing he’s ever had.

 Which is the point, of course, for any woman, whether she wears glasses or not: she is there to bring meaning into the life of a painfully boring, oblivious man. To awaken his feelings, his passion, and remain loyal to him even after he treats her poorly, because after all, how could he know any better before she’s shown him the way? It is the job of this woman to be his helpmeet on the journey toward enlightenment, the discovery of his truest self, never mind her own desires.

(1990s’ films remind us to be wary of women with desires: remember how The Hand That Rocked the Cradle turned out? And Rebecca DeMornay wasn’t even ugly.)

What higher purpose is there anyway than making a man who resembles a Ken doll consider that he might be human?

5 thoughts on “‘90s Films About Hideous Women Finding Love”

  1. It’s hard to believe that getting married was still considered an achievement in the 90s. I feel seen.

    1. Kerry says:

      Muriel was so aware of itself though. SUCH A GOOD MOVIE.

  2. Louise says:

    Funny how the 90’s feel both so long ago and surprisingly recent (to me). I guess it’s ben a long time since I last watched ‘Circle of Friends’ – but I do remember that Benny was supposed to be overweight, but was “overweight” only by standards imposed by a community where ‘size 0’ is actually a thing. And that’s another depressing genre of American movies, isn’t it? Young Women Who Are Expected To See Themselves As ‘Fat’ Are – Wait For It – Wonderful Human Beings. There was a dog’s breakfast of a film with Gwyn Paltrow in a fat suit, and something more recent with Amy Schumer. (But I’m only ranting, of course, because I wear glasses and choose not to wear makeup, so am therefore “unattractive” . . . HA HA HA!) {all the face palm and eye roll emojis}

  3. Jackie says:

    My personal favourite of the genre was “The Truth about Cats and Dogs.” Just Googled it for the date. Sure enough: 1996. Quite the decade in which to come of age.

    1. Kerry says:

      Janeane Garofalo! I want to be her when I grow up.

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