Thirty years ago today, Mannequin was released.
It was not well received. “In Mannequin, [Andrew] McCarthy plays a hapless young man who is fired from one job after another, and [Kim] Cattrall plays an Egyptian princess who is reincarnated as a dummy in a Philadelphia department store window,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review 30 years ago. “When she comes to life, she gives him the inspiration to decorate great windows, and that gives him confidence in himself. I am not leaving out very much here.”
He’s right. The movie is stupid. About three years ago, a re-watch of Mannequin led me to write a story about how it’s the greatest movie ever shot and set in Philadelphia. That’s because Emmy, Cattrall’s character, is established as a time-traveler who has dated Christopher Columbus. But her love for Jonathan Switcher (McCarthy) is so great she decides to stay with him. The movie literally posits that the greatest period in human history is 1980s Philadelphia. How could we not love this film?
But despite being bad, Mannequin is eminently watchable. Why?
I thought about this on recent re-viewings of the movie, including once in Spanish (which my girlfriend speaks). I liked it every time. I was even able to enjoy Mannequin even in a language I didn’t understand. Yet, every single time I watched it I complained about how bad the movie was.
Mannequin is up there next to Batman & Robin among my favorite so-bad-it’s-good movies. But I still haven’t entirely been able to figure out why. The modern retelling of the Pygmalion myth is such a fantastically dumb movie that every time it’s on, I have to watch at least a little.
I think Ebert, unknowingly, nailed it in his half-star review 30 years ago, calling the movie “pulp fiction.” It does seem like a movie that could’ve been made 50 years before its late-1980s setting. The Philadelphians in the movie even go wild for the window displays in Prince & Company, the fictional department store in the Wanamaker building. Move the setting to, say, the 1930s and the movie makes a little more sense.
A little. It’s still a movie where the time-travel aspect is left unexplained. Also left unexplained is how the mannequin becomes Emmy, why only Jonathan can see her, and how neat window displays manage to turn around the finances of a department store so quickly. It all adds up to a bad movie.
But it’s still eminently watchable. I think it has to do mainly with how likable all the actors are. Cattrall — who told reporters she did a lot of body-building before the movie — is cute and bubbly, and McCarthy plows through with the material he’s given. Hollywood Montrose, played by the late Meshach Taylor, is “an anthology of gay stereotypes” (as Ebert puts it) but is portrayed as a heroic character. James Spader and Estelle Getty do yeoman’s work, and the clumsy night watchman Felix (G.W. Bailey) is so over the top it almost turns the movie into a cartoon. Maybe that’s what Mannequin is: a live-action cartoon.
There’s more to like about it than just the film Then-mayor Wilson Goode said the movie injected $3 million into the economy. (The movie primarily shot from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the Wanamaker building. Cattrall stayed at the Hershey Hotel, of all places, during filming.)
Thirty years on, a movie that got uniformly negative reviews is still memorable. It’s a silly movie with a paper-thin plot and incredible leaps in logic. I mean, it’s a movie about a mannequin that comes to life. But, somehow, it’s pretty great. Now that’s a plot twist you didn’t see coming.