I don’t want to make this all about me…but I am celebrating a milestone birthday at the end of March. You don’t need to know the exact figure, but I can remember the Spice Girls first-hand, I struggle to remember Clarissa explaining it all before re-runs appeared, and can’t afford a house, so you can piece the figure together. But in the spirit of celebrating this momentous occasion, I have felt a little nostalgic and figured this month’s entry into The (Not) Gay Movie Club deserved be one that I loved growing up, one that’s emblematic of its era, and is of course, incredibly gay without actually being gay in theme or characterisation.
A handful of names came to mind, but reflecting on how fixated I was with this movie’s poster – two women in the girliest dresses, the chunkiest platform heels, lifting their feet, grinning at the camera – and how insanely enjoyable it has become as I have gotten older, there really was no option but to welcome Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion into our illustrious, exclusive movie club.
Romy White and Michele Weinberger are living their best lives in L.A…. in some ways. Romy works in a car dealership and Michele is unemployed, but they have each other, and enjoy an enviously indulgent lifestyle. One day, they bump into one of their pseudo-friends from high school, Heather (Janeane Garofalo), who informs Romy that their ten-year high school reunion is coming up. However, they realise that they have accomplished very little since graduating and have nothing to showcase at the reunion – they were unpopular losers and have a lot to prove. So, they reinvent themselves in a desperate bid for acceptance from their former peers. My favourite white lie – that they invented the Post-It, of course.
Lisa Kudrow was two years into Friends when the film was released, riding a wave of unbelievable stardom, and Mira Sorvino was fresh off her Academy Award-winning turn in Mighty Aphrodite. It is difficult to imagine anyone else embodying these characters so perfectly. Their connection is so authentic, as seen in their off-screen reunions, that we wish desperately to be part of their gang of misfits. Romy and Michele are a parody of vacant valley girls and they so easily could be mean-spirited and cruel, but the duo has such heart and sincerity that we are always rooting for them. Rather than applauding vapidity for the sake of a cheap laugh, we’re celebrating their journey to becoming their best selves. And their best selves happen to be hilarious.
Like Heathers and Clueless did before, Romy and Michele cemented its pop culture classic status because of its one-liners and camp sensibility. Here is a short selection of some of our favourite quotes, served without any context:
‘Do you have some sort of businesswomen’s special?’ (in the grottiest of roadside diners)
‘I hate throwing up in public. ‘Me too!’
‘Let’s fold scarves!’
‘Remember when I had mono? That was such a great diet.’
The screenplay is hilarious and Kudrow and Sorvino have such impeccable timing that every scene feels iconic in its own way. Special credit should also be reserved for Romy’s hilarious accent. Sorvino was inspired by her sister’s ‘pseudo-Valley Girl’ voice and spun it into comedy gold. On how she created Romy’s voice, Sorvino told Vulture last year, ‘I just made it a little bit lower, because I felt that Romy is the guy in the relationship. She’s the John Wayne, in her head. So it made sense to have a more masculine tenor to her. And I wanted her physicality to feel like a football player in drag. Like, when you see her marching to places in her high heels, it shouldn’t ever look graceful.’
One could lazily create a comparison with the similarly iconic 90s classic Clueless: a female-led, quotable time capsule adored by queer audiences 25 years after its release. But as amazing as Clueless is, it feels ‘straight’ compared to Romy and Michele, maybe because our heroes are such outsiders, and Cher, while charmingly flawed, has her act together. Romy and Michele don’t have an ounce of Cher’s confidence or savvy gift of the gab. They’re a little more relatable, and their experience feels more authentic to that of the queer fans who adored it so passionately.
However, as fiery as my passion for the film has burned for most of my life, I confidently admit the film is far from perfect. There is an enormous chunk of the movie that is revealed to be an extended dream sequence, which adult-me watching the film for the first time would find exceptionally irritating. And you could argue there’s no real message to take away from the film. But maybe that’s where the beauty of the film lies: there is no suggestion that this is intended to be a thoughtful, brow-furrowing masterpiece. It’s a jubilant celebration of female friendship, pure and simple. So what, then, made it such an impactful film for me and a generation of gay kids?
It’s hard to decide where to start. The cast speaks for itself: Janeane Garofalo, 90s icon adored by gays and lesbians everywhere, and Alan Cumming, Scotland’s premier pansexual poster boy, are flawless in their roles as the women’s former classmates and bring an inexplicable queerness to the table.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t discuss the costuming, and Romy and Michele does not disappoint. The women dress in hyper-femme, bold, shiny looks when they’re being authentic to themselves, but even their conservative ‘businesswomen’ outfits – straight out of a 90s Versace catalogue – are glorious (Romy’s updo…).
However, the gayest element of this film is undeniably the dance sequence between Romy, Michele, and Sandy at the end. This interpretive dance at the reunion to ‘Time After Time’ (courtesy of certified gay icon Cyndi Lauper) is probably the film’s most iconic scene, one etched in even the most casual viewer’s memory. It’s stupid, hilarious, and everything you could possibly want from a film.
What drew me to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion growing up? At the risk of overreaching, a few things spring to mind. ‘Two ditzy blondes in absurdly camp, quintessentially 90s outfits’ feels like the most immediate answer to that question. And maybe seeing two eccentric, unconventional female friends having fun, supporting each other, and ultimately showing that they are the real deal to their former bullies is particularly satisfying to queer audiences. But sometimes wee kids are just drawn to something special without questioning it too much, whether that’s Romy, Michele, the Pink Ranger, Storm, Gwen Stefani, any female video game character…I digress.
Endlessly quotable, absurd, and heart-warming, I welcome Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion with open arms into The (Not) Gay Movie Club, and hope I get as many Post-Its as possible for my birthday.
All images courtesy of Touchstone Pictures