1987 in Film – Outrageous Fortune

Release Date: January 30th
Box Office: $52,864,741

Buddy movies are a staple of Hollywood going way way back. Just think of teams like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello and Hope and Crosby. That’s just the comedy pairs, what about Redford and Newman?

By the eighties this genre had diversified, bringing in road movies and action movies and dramas. Female led buddy movies don’t come along that often, despite the first probably beingStage Door (1937), but when they do they tend to hit big.

Which brings us to Outrageous Fortune (1987).

The film casts Shelley Long against type as Lauren, an upper class wannabe actress looking to attend the acting class of a famous Russian theatre professor. Also attending the class is Sandy played by Bette Midler, who is also playing against type as a loud mouth blue collar woman. Surprisingly they don’t get along, which comes to ahead when they find out they are dating the same man, Michael. When he apparently dies in a explosion at a florists things really start to unravel as the CIA get involved and a cross country chase ensues.

There’s a lot of things going on there. You have the buddy element with Long and Midler in the middle snapping away at each other. You have a Hitcockian flavour of ordinary people getting swept up in things beyond their understanding with the CIA and KGB chasing Michael who is trying to sell a deadly virus. Then you have the road movie side of things as we go from grimy 80s New York and ending up in the deserts of New Mexico.

Somehow, these disparate elements work together. Not amazingly, but you can enjoy the film without doing suspending too much disbelief. It helps that Long and Midler work very well as a team. Both aren’t exactly stretching themselves; Long may as well be playing Diane from Cheers and Midler is, well, Midler. That she ended up with a Golden Globe nomination for the performance is interesting.

The rest of the cast isn’t exactly memorable; Peter Coyote gives good bad guy as the villain though the role is pretty one dimensional. George Carlin pops up in a cameo that borders on the annoying which is countered by the fact that he’s George Carlin. The man could make any material sing like an opera and he’s not exactly working with gold here.

But it’s that central duo that make Outrageous Fortune watchable which probably explains why the film did so well at the box office. It landed outside of the top ten for the year but still made a respectable amount of money considering the small budget.

That Long and Midler never made another film together is a shame. There are stories about bickering over who got top billing for the film (which ended up with the country being split down the middle, Long with top billing in the West and Midler in the East) which doesn’t translate to the screen. I mean, yes, there is bickering but it’s intended bickering to be funny and that. Long’s career stuttered somewhat after this whilst Midler’s star continued to rise both on film and in the music charts.

So in a genre that didn’t come along that frequently, and one that would be soon redefined by Ridley Scott, Outrageous Fortune is one that got lucky. It had two stars at the right time to make it a success when the material probably didn’t warrant it.

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