Watching the 1985 teen flick is like "Dancing in Heaven"

From left: Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt
Credit: Getty

Hard to believe, but on April 12, 1985, the teen flick Girls Just Want to Have Fun first hit theaters. Skip past the part where this 30th anniversary makes you feel old, and instead reflect on the fact that this film holds up remarkably well today.

In fact, it’s streaming on Netflix as of the publication of this article. But until you get the opportunity to revisit this Sarah Jessica Parker classic, let us remind you why Girls Just Want to Have Fun has grown in popularity long after its theatrical run.

1. It’s one of the best movies inspired by a song …

No, really. In terms of a writer taking the elements of a popular song – in this case, Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 hit – and weaving them into a coherent story, it’s more successful than Ode to Billy Joe or Convoy or, um, Purple People Eater. Okay, it’s a narrow field, but still, the script translates the song nicely.

2. …Even if that song isn’t used in the actual film.

As a result of a licensing issue, the Cyndi Lauper song is never actually played in the movie. A cover version is used instead. You probably didn’t notice while watching as a kid. The movie evokes Lauper-ness nonetheless.

3. It has a great soundtrack anyway.

It’s Alex Brown’s “Come On (Shout)” that opens the film instead, and it sets the tone for the film. And the video for the song is gloriously, indisputably ’80s. (See also Q-Feel’s “Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop),” No. 27 below.)

4. It boasts ’80s fonts in their full, sparkly glory.

Enough time has passed that this is no longer dated; it’s vintage.

5. It is a treat to watch a teenage Sarah Jessica Parker as the heroine.

She’s so, so earnest, and you can watch for glimpses of the flashier, more self-assured SJP we’d all come to know and love.

6. SJP will win you over in the opening scene.

She nails those first-day-of-school nerves. And even though Parker is perfectly convincing as the shy new girl, it’s still odd to look at what she’s like today and imagine her as anything other than the most popular girl in school.

7. And young Helen Hunt is the ideal high school best friend.

As Janey’s friend Lynne, who’s going to change her name as soon as she’s old enough, Helen Hunt is awesome. She’s cool. She’s rebellious. She shares Janey’s passions. And most important of all, she reassures Janey when she needs confidence and then pushes her to go further and try harder.

8. Helen Hunt’s whackadoo fashion.

Yes, those are dinosaurs she’s wearing on her head. Her looks aren’t even all that ’80s. They’re just a timeless variety of weird-girl cool – or is that cool-girl weird? Either way, Kimmy Gibbler, Six LeMeure and Rayanne Graff all took pointers from Lynne on how a best friend can express herself through daring fashion.

9. Baby Shannen Doherty.

She was barely a teenager when she filmed Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and today it’s fun to compare the moppet version of the actress with the one we’d get to know just five years later on Beverly Hills, 90210.

10. It features one the hunkiest boyfriends in any ’80s movie ever.

Lee Montgomery plays Jeff, the working-class guy with the only moves sweet enough to match Janey’s. He’s a teen girl’s dream come true. Montgomery, however, appeared in only three more movies before quitting acting altogether.

11. Jeff’s dad is supportive of his son’s love of dancing.

It’s a minor plot point, but in virtually any other movie in which a young man has dreams of dancing, his blue-collar dad would probably be slow to accept his son’s desire. In this movie, that doesn’t happen. Jeff’s dad is on board. It’s Janey’s dad who is resistant.

12. Young Jonathan Silverman showcases maximum levels of nerdy.

He’d eventually grow into a leading-man type, but in this movie, Silverman plays the counterpoint to hunky Jeff: a guy who is hopeless with girls, not that he ever lets that stop him – “Tune in, Tokyo” and all.

13. It also has one of the best-ever mean rich girls.

In case you wonder where else you’ve seen Holly Gagnier, the actress who played spoiled Natalie, she was a regular on the original season of Baywatch.

14. It preceded Clueless by a decade.

Natalie had the original, enviable automated wardrobe.

15. It will make you yearn for American Bandstand.

There’s something about the idea of teens running home to watch a live broadcast of a show featuring the day’s most popular music that will make you nostalgic even if you didn’t actually grow up watching anything like Dance TV. Also, Helen Hunt is an endearingly terrible babysitter.

16. And now, an unpaid endorsement by Helen Hunt for Velcro.

See? We told you she’s wacky and rebellious!

17. Importantly, Janey is not weak.

She knows what she wants and she’s willing to work hard to get it – and in this scene, she flatly tells her male partner that she expects the same from him.

18. "A lot better than preteen!"

This one brief scene with Shannen Doherty’s character perfectly nails the way younger kids want desperately to be seen as anything else other than young. “You really think I’m punk?” she says, flattered. “It’s not as cool as new wave, but a lot better than preteen!”

19. It has Gina Gershon as a background extra.

She’s wearing a maroon top and sporting curly hair and huge, pendulous earrings. Hey, it was the mid-’80s, after all.

20. It offers tips for getting out of P.E. activities.

21. And lessons about how to be a good girl.

22. But also lessons in how not to be a good girl.

23. Because it’s an ’80s movie, it has a training montage.

And because it’s a romance movie, this sequence doubles as a “falling in love” montage.

24. Its revenge plot is also a triumph for social equality.

Janey and Lynne snag an invitation to Natalie’s debutante party and give copies out to all the new wave and punk kids. Natalie is, of course, furious, but the girls’ only real crime is opening the doors of an exclusive party to all the kids who weren’t deemed good enough for snobby Natalie. (Robert Downey Jr. makes an uncredited cameo as one of the punked-out crashers, BTW.)

25. And that scene generated this GIF.

It’s pretty awesome in and of itself.

26. It introduces us ever so briefly to the Mirror Image sisters.

If ever a pair of movie characters were deserving of their own spin-off

27. It has one of the most triumphant dance finales in any ’80s movie ever.

And considering how may ’80s movies conclude with one elaborate, perfectly choreographed dance sequence, that’s saying a lot.

28. Again, it must be said: Helen Hunt’s ’80s style is flawless.

Eat your heart out, Tina Turner.

29. It’s a great movie about female friendship.

In most movies about female friends, their bond is challenged. A lot of the time, there’s a rift that must be repaired before the finale. That never happens in this movie. Janey and Lynne simply become friends and then support each other throughout the entire movie. Nothing ever comes between them. That’s rare.

30. It set the standard for a lot of dance movies that followed.

Watching it today, it seems like Girls Just Want to Have Fun uses a lot of the tropes we associate with dance films – a heroine in love, a zany friend, the spoiled rival, the blue-collar love interest, lots of dancing in front of a TV. But as this 2013 Vulture piece makes the case, it was actually this film that originated many of those mainstays.

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