Melissa McCarthy‘s new comedy, The Boss, arrives in theaters on Friday. Given McCarthy’s string of box office successes, the movie seems primed to be a hit. And we’re stoked too, but the premise of the film has us recalling another female-led comedy: The 1989 Shelley Long cult hit Troop Beverly Hills.
Both films focus on women of means who enjoy living the high life but who have also been humbled in some way – The Boss‘s Michelle Darnell being sent to prison, and Troop‘s Phyllis Nefler facing an impending divorce. And both protagonists turn to the Girl Scouts (or at least a non-copyright-infringing Girl Scouts-esque organization) in order to redeem themselves.
From there, they go in different directions, but you’re not alone if you saw the trailer for The Boss and thought, “You know, it’s been too long since I watched Troop Beverly Hills.” Dismissed by critics when it first hit theaters, Troop nonetheless became a favorite for a certain sort of young viewer who didn’t care about reviews and just enjoyed the glossy, colorful version of Beverly Hills that the film put forth. And in the lead role, Long is delightful – out of touch but not snobbish, entitled but still good-hearted, and on the whole very earnest in the way she attempts something that no one thinks she can accomplish.
Yes, having watched it again all these years later, we’re still fans. And we noticed a few life lessons the film teaches us that we didn’t pick up during that first video rental night so long ago…
1. There’s nothing wrong with being girly
This is easily the greatest takeaway from the film. Phyllis is clever, eager and hardworking (at least when she has to be). She’s also unapologetically girly, and while other characters in the film – her husband (Craig T. Nelson), rival scout leader Velda (Betty Thomas), occasionally even her own daughter (Jenny Lewis in her major film debut) – treat her fluffy, primped nature like a liability, it doesn’t hold Phyllis back. Sure, she toughens up, but she’s no less girly at the end of the film and, in fact, she finds her own ways to be successful on her terms. For example, it’s her fancy, portable wardrobe backpacks that allow her troop to devise a makshift stretcher and carry Velda to the finishing line at the climactic jamboree showdown. Go, Phyllis.
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2. Being yourself doesn’t mean rejecting those who are different from you
Phyllis is a nice person. She’s well aware that Velda has a different, much harsher approach to leading a scout troop (and a much different take on personal style), but she’s perfectly fine with that, at least until Velda makes it clear that she’d rather Phyllis didn’t exist. Velda never gets it, but in the end Phyllis’ good-natured ways win over Annie (Mary Gross), the spy Velda sends over to sabotage the troop’s efforts at success.
3. Dress to get noticed
According to this Jezebel ranking of every outfit Shelley Long wears in the film, Phyllis has no less than 31 costume changes. Sometimes she even shows up wearing a new outfit even when it doesn’t make sense for Phyllis to have changed her clothes. We’re into it. That late ’80s-early ’90s inter-decade transition never looked fancier.
4. It pays to have an eye for details
And when it comes to couture fashion, it can mean saving valuable hundreds – on a dress that costs thousands, sure, but savings are savings.
5. Tailoring cannot be underestimated
You could probably attempt to pull something profound out of this, but we’ll take the obvious lesson here: If you don’t like what you’re given, make it your own.
6. Yes, you have an excuse for bringing several suitcases full of clothes and accessories
Phyllis would be happy if you stole this motto.
7. In fact, don’t just wear clothes – wear them with panache
This is how you do a big reveal.
8. "Never go to Reno, girls"
Phyllis brings her entire troop to her divorce proceeding, and she imparts to them a valuable lesson about the logistics of it all: “Never go to Reno, girls. The California community property laws cannot be beat.”
9. Camping need not be uncomfortable
Decades before “glamping” became a buzzword, Phyllis Nefler was on top of it.
10. Dress your best – especially when everyone else is looking their worst
Yes, it has occurred to us that a lot of these life lessons are fashion-related. What of it?
11. "Uniforms blur an individual s sense of self"
Uniforms aren’t necessary in establishing a group identity. Every member of the group can still retain her individual identity – with the right wardrobe budget, of course.
12. Know your dance steps
Dances come and go but the classics hold up. There’s a generation of ’80s kids who learned about the existence of the frug, the twist and more by watching Phyllis teach a room full of jazzercise-ready tweens. And in case you’re ever feeling down, can we recommend this looped clip of Shelley Long doing the mashed potato? It’s the best.
13. Make sure you specify ‘no perms’
This seems like it would be less of a problem as we move away from the ’80s, but it’s always a good rule to lay down right away with a new hairdresser, right?
14. You can put wine in hobo stew, it turns out
Dinner-planners and home entertainers, take note!
15. There’s no better sales pitch than a good song
How do you beat those devious Culver City scouts? You put on a show – and place Jasmine Shakar (Tasha Scott) in the forefront. The actress musters a little Tina Turner magic; Scott, by the way, would go on to play Dorothy in a national tour of The Wiz.
16. Good will breeds good will
Just when it looks like Velda has won and Phyllis is ready to give up, her troops rally to support her. She helped each of them, and now they’re willing to extend the favor. Also? Check this clip for a good look at all the actresses playing the girls. In order, it’s Emily Schulman (the neighbor girl from Small Wonder), Kellie Martin, Ami Foster (Margaux from Punky Brewster), Carla Gugino, Heather Hopper from Good Morning, Miss Bliss, Aquilina Soriano, Tasha Scott and, of course, Jenny Lewis as Hannah.
17. Victory is all the sweeter when you celebrate it with friends
The Beverly Hills scouts come out on top in the end because they work together in a way the Culver City girls don’t. (Remember that Velda gets injured, and her daughter makes the executive decision to leave her in the woods, but they get disqualified from the jamboree competition because the rules required them to return with their troop leader.) We will just ignore that “Beverly Hills” isn’t an exact rhyme for “what a thrill.”
18. Enemies can become friends
Betty Thomas may have played Phyllis’ sworn enemy onscreen, but she later went on to direct films – notably the two Brady Bunch films in which Long played Carol Brady. Those two performances are among Long’s best comedic ones ever, and the combination of Thomas offscreen and Long onscreen proved to be a winning one.
19. Small roles lead to bigger ones
Long before she became known for that other Beverly Hills-centric entity, Tori Spelling made her film debut in Troop Beverly Hills as an almost non-speaking crony to Velda’s ruthless scout daughter (Dinah Lacey).
20. More movies should open with animated sequences
We said it in our round-up of life lessons from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and we’ll say it again here: animated openings rock. This one, by John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame, perfectly sets the tone for the movie.