I swear, every once in a while I’ll remember one of the Many Many Times movies film and think, “All right, THIS movie is the apex (or perhaps ‘nadir’) of 80s-ness. No movie can be more 80s than this.” And then I realize that it’s a false bottom, and there is something EVEN 80s-er than that.
I think Fast Forward is truly the bottom. It is as 80s as possible. But maybe there is something more 80s. And that frightens me.
Forward is directed by Hollywood giant Sidney Poitier. Yes. Sidney Poitier, acting powerhouse. He is not noted for is directing. This movie gives you a good idea why.
So, we start with eight kids in Sandusky, Ohio, a town whose major industry is making kids who’ve got one shot to get out of this place, and they pretty much sort-of-secret rehearse a dance number. I say sort-of-secret because there’s a whole sense that they’re being clandestine about it—they sneak into the abandoned warehouse to do it, the radio is hidden under things… but then they blast music and sing and dance, so… what’s with the sneaking?
Anyhow, these crazy kids have a dream of going to New York and winning a contest to show that they’ve GOT WHAT IT TAKES. About these eight kids— the Amazing Eight—two guys, who I’ll just call Manager Guy and Dancer Guy, and six girls who are multiracial but largely interchangeable. I mean, I think two of them are explicit girlfriends of the two guys, but… eh, doesn’t matter. As characters the six girls are The Six Girls.
The group has an in to this contest, in that the head of the record company came through town, and the two guys dressed like waiters and snuck into his hotel room. Despite annoying the everloving piss out of this guy, they still got his card. He agreed to help them out when they come to New York. Unfortunately, in between then and now, he died, and the New Jerk In Charge isn’t that interested in these kids. Plus the actual contest isn’t for three weeks, so, come back later.
That last part is strange. I don’t mean that it’s three weeks away, but given that it is three weeks away, you would think the line-up would already be locked down. Or maybe it is locked down, but the guy doesn’t confirm that. Instead he talks numbers of how many will be in the finals (ten), and how many can win (one), and thus these hick kids from Ohio should just go home.
Disparaged but not defeated, they decide they need to prove that THEY CAN MAKE IT IN THIS TOWN, if they just have gumption. And they have gumption in spades. So they pool their money together (wouldn’t they have done this part already?) and find an apartment to share. Which makes me ask: in Plan A, where were they planning on sleeping that night? I mean, did they think the record label would put them up for the three weeks?
The apartment they rent is an absurd hole of a place. I mean, let alone that it has three designated harassers out front, but it’s in comically bad condition. Rot, mold, nastiness and shambles. What makes the rental sequence into art, though, is how the landlady shows it to them with cliché big-city cynicism. Not an ounce of shame as she shows them just how crappy the whole thing is. She even looks genuinely shocked that they’ll take it, because who would dare live in such a horror show?
Except, of course, its badness is mostly cosmetic, since a montage of scrubbing, painting and low-cost furniture acquisition ends with it looking perfectly serviceable. (Though, paint’s not free. How they could buy that and not just find money for a less horrible place, I don’t know.) But then they have to solve the next problem: eating. (This is despite the fact that they even SAY they’ve been cleaning for three days.) So Manager Guy HAS A PLAN.
The plan is basically to crash a fancy hotel restaurant. I swear, Manager Guy is sitting alone at a table, wearing what must be his only decent jacket and looking utterly out of place. After a bit of looking around suspiciously, he reaches under the table and turns a boombox on. Music blares, and everyone who works the restaurant just looks confused. Like, I swear to God, the guy at the piano looks perplexed at his own hands, like he’s thinking, “WHAT? WHERE IS THIS NON-PIANO MUSIC COMING FROM?” Then the dancers all show up LITERALLY OUT OF NOWHERE on the convenient dance floor. Seriously, seven people in bright, skin-tight leotards just show up, one-by-one, and they did not exist in the restaurant before appearing to dance. These kids really should have listed “teleportation” on their resume.
Once the dance number is done, while the restaurant people have their collective panties in a bunch, the crowd applauds, but Manager Guy plays the game Obvious Ringer Is Obvious, where he insists on putting all the money in his pocket into their hat, and then tells others to do the same. So they make decent money, but the restaurant people are mad at them. Little is made of it: it smash cuts from the maître d’ saying, “I want to talk to THAT GUY!” to the group laughing and eating steak in their apartment, everything cool even though Manager Guy clearly had a long conversation with hotel staff. So, no consequences.
Next, they take to street dancing, and seem to do fine enough. They make some money, pass out cards, and the Designated Rich Girl Love Interest sees Manager Guy and eye-fucks the living hell out of him. But she’s an 80s-movie Rich Girl, so she has a disapproving mother telling her to come along to the car. All 80s-movie Rich Girls have a disapproving mother.
The kids adjust to varying degrees to living in the city, whether it’s avoiding the Neighborhood Rapists, or hanging out with the Rich Girl Love Interest, or making sad, wordless phone calls to mom and dad in Sandusky. They also attract some negative attention by a SERIOUS Street Dance Gang, and they have to go to some club to defend their honor.
So there’s a dance-fight against the world’s only Vibe Cosplayer and his gang of dancers, and I have to give the movie credit here that they clearly show our heroes getting TROUNCED. Like, they have solid form and technique, but they can’t hold a candle to the raw energy the other group is putting out. This depresses our heroes, but they also double down and decide they have to get their street skills together before they are in any real competition. So they watch other street dancers and learn new moves.
Meanwhile there’s a few subplots. Rich Girl Love Interest (who, of course, refers to her mother as “Mother”) gets involved, in that she’s wanting to set up a gig for them to work a party at her estate, so Manager Guy meets with her. This apparently annoys everyone else, like he’s getting too big for the group because he’s… meeting with someone who wants to hire them. Mind you, he doesn’t act like he’s now too important to rehearse or deal with them—they just give him crap because he’s interacting with the Rich Girl at all. Well, and some making-out.
Also the Neighborhood Rapists need to make quota for the month, so they up their game. When one such attack—which the two girls involved do a damn fine job of fighting off—brings the cops, the girls get brought down to the station, and the cops call their parents in Ohio. AS IF THIS WAS A THING THAT WOULD HAPPEN. (Mind you, I’m not sure why the girls try to run away when the cops show up.) Angry Ohio Dads show up, and glower, but decide to trust these kids to give it a shot.
The Rich Girl subplot culminates with Manager Guy getting caught in the kissing, which irritates the one of the Six Girls who is his nominal girlfriend, and she wants to quit and go home. Until she doesn’t, but for the sake of the group, not Manager Guy. Drinking may have been involved in the resolution of this one.
Subplots over and new moves learned, they go back to the club and school their previous schoolers, which earns them respect or something. Now nothing can stop them from winning that competition!
Well, except for the small fact that they aren’t actually in that competition. Partly because Manager Guy pissed off Rich Girl’s Mother and Boyfriend, so the record exec isn’t going to give them a shot. So it’s time for a long shot: going straight to the widow of the former executive of the record company. She also calls Rich Girl’s Mother, but when Rich Girl’s Mother trashes them, that convinces the Widow—who actually doesn’t like Rich Girl’s Mother—that they must be worth a shot.
However, the actual Executive in Charge isn’t taking the Widow’s advice. He’s Big Business! He has a New Way of Doing Things! Time to make money instead of “keeping promises”. So they aren’t in.
Except the Widow is too old for that shit. She decides FUCK EVERYTHING and she’s going to help them. This involves her dressing up like a punk old lady and using the people in the company who are still loyal to her to sneak the Eight into the competition.
Now, there’s a whole thing that the New Exec has his favorite band in there, and he’s sort of rigging things for their sake so he can sign them up. And that’s bad. As opposed to the Widow, who is rigging things for the group she likes. Because that’s good!
But, honestly, couldn’t the exec just sign the band he likes without the contest? Or the Old Lady sign the kids? I’m saying the contest is a needless hurdle given they already have the support of people in the company.
Of course, our heroes win because that’s what happens in these movies. Let’s ignore the fact that this for a recording contract, and everyone else in the competition is a band, you know, with instruments, and the Eight are dancers who also sing to canned music.
But they win! And Manager Guy and Nominal Girlfriend make up, because of course they do! Widow is taking her company back from New Exec because she says so, and that’s that! Everything will be awesome now!
There’s half an idea here about how these kids are the real deal because of their hard work and dedication, while the band the exec wants is just empty flash, but…. that’s kind of garbage.
I’m just saying, if the part of the message of the movie is for the winners to be people with heart and realness over flash and spectacle, because they worked so damn hard, then maybe it shouldn’t be that the winners we follow are more flash and spectacle than, you know, actual music.
Or perhaps not have the endgame of the movie involve dancers winning a battle of the bands.
Sidney Poitier, as a director, tended to have a lot of earnestness, and a technique that’s straight out of mediocre episodic television directing. I remember reading an interview in a film magazine about him saying, of GHOST DAD (his ninth and last feature as a director!), that he had finally directed enough movies to start using prime lenses (lenses set for one focal length, like 50mm for regular two-shots, 18mm for wide-open vistas, and 85mm for close-ups), instead of the default zoom lens mounted on the camera. (Never mind that’s something a halfway decent DP should have been able to do for him….)
His best films tended to be comedies, like STIR CRAZY, UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT, and HANKY PANKY.
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