Welcome to Missed Connections, a weekly column where I get to highlight films that are little known and/or unfairly maligned.
I’ll be shining a light in two directions — I hope to introduce you to movies you’ve never seen and possibly never heard of, and I’ll attempt to defend films that history, critical consensus, and maybe even your own memories haven’t been very kind to.
This week’s entry is an 80s comedy that in a better world would have jump-started a still-strong film career for the talented and ridiculously charismatic Deborah Foreman. Unfortunately though we live in this one, and while two ensemble genre pics (April Fool’s Day, Waxwork) followed, this goofy romp turned out to be her final widely seen lead role. (Sorry Lunatics: A Love Story.) It’s been downhill for America ever since.
A wealthy old man (E.G. Marshall) dispatches his chauffeur with an important letter for young Casey Meadows (Foreman) destined to change her life forever. She doesn’t know who he is or why he sent it, but the job offer as a limousine driver for his company is too fantastic to resist — she loves cars and hates her current job, so it’s a no brainer. The current employees, including the always fantastic Howard Hesseman as the boss, aren’t nearly as thrilled though at the prospect of a [gasp!] female driver.
If you watch movies of course then you know exactly why the old man gave her a job, but just go with it.
Casey immediately disrupts the status quo with more than just her vagina — she’s unconventional, naughtily perky, dressed loudly, and as played by Foreman, an absolute goddamn delight. She starts off on the wrong foot right away by spilling a drink in one old man’s lap and attempting to clean it up — “Madam, if you continue masturbating my driver you are going to be a murderer.” — and only upsets them more with her bright, positive attitude. They try to make her quit or mess up by being rude and tasking her with difficult clients, but she’s not going anywhere. It’s a rom-com, so romance soon follows when she drives a businessman named Battle (Sam Jones) and immediately clashes with his personality and lack of people skills. They’re opposites see, and her brash free spirit is just the cure for his unhappy workaholic life.
Writer/director David Beaird‘s My Chauffeur is as simple and straightforward as you’d expect for a script reportedly written in two hours while sitting at a diner, but while it’s somewhat slight and disjointed it remains a fun ride. Oddly it also reveals all but one of its secrets up front leaving little for audiences to be surprised about. The end wrap-up invokes a minor deus ex machina to deal with some pesky incest-related hilarity — itself a reveal that Casey and Battle seem entirely okay with (“We’ve been bad!”) — and it all ends as happily as you’d expect of an 80s comedy.
There are funny gags, and the film introduced the world to the talents of Penn & Teller (in an extended cameo that admittedly feels like filler), but the element that raises My Chauffeur above the glut of non-blockbuster 80s comedies is Foreman’s performance. Her character is confident and mouthy in the most optimistically sassy ways, and Foreman plays her with such addictive verve that you fall in love almost immediately. Between the glint in her eyes and the curves of her smile she constantly looks to be on the verge of telling a dirty joke for your ears only.
Not for nothing, but there’s a reason she shared wall space in my teenage bedroom right between Sybil Danning and Heather Thomas.
Casey’s a bundle of energy and personality, and Foreman channels it into an endearing character who wins us over with her every utterance. The scene where she tries to console the recently dumped Battle in the back of the limo is comedic perfection as she mimics his cries while still talking. The comedy’s broad at times — the blue lady’s underwear is worth 20,000 points after all — but she manages a sincere heart at the center of the madness. Foreman also shows a talent for both physically-minded comedy and line delivery reminiscent of the screwball patter of the 30s and 40s. The film doesn’t give her a counterpart to bounce off of, say a Cary Grant to her Rosalind Russell, but that doesn’t stop her from dipping into the rapid-fire dialogue.
She embraces the goofiness of it all, and the movie gets plenty offbeat, but she also finds quiet moments of sweetness too. One minute she’s doing impersonations and talking about being sticky, and the next she’s calmly and quietly offering a ride to a couple in need. Her reactions to other people’s joy are themselves joyful, and it lends a softness to a film that also sees a woman swinging her poodle on a leash to prevent a rock star from stealing her underwear.
Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray cleans up the image making it the best way to watch since it first hit screens 31 years ago. There are a pair of commentaries, but the highlight of the extras is a brand new interview with Foreman herself. She discusses her career and experience on the film — it’s her favorite in her filmography — and she also mentions an interesting detail that may very well have shaped what followed. The film opened in third place at the box office, but apparently distributor Crown International intentionally misreported the numbers and claimed the top spot. Steven Spielberg wasn’t having it as his The Color Purple actually took #1, and Crown quickly capitulated under his pressure. The fallout was felt immediately by Foreman as invites to appear on The Tonight Show and elsewhere were immediately rescinded, and she was even advised to skip accepting her “Most Promising New Star” award at that year’s Sho West.
Mother fucking Steven Spielberg.
My Chauffeur may not be a lost masterpiece — the expected 80s racial insensitivity doesn’t help there — but it’s a film that forces up the corners of your mouth and leaves you smiling with its goofy but sincere heart. Foreman’s infectious joy is a major reason for that, and I’ll never forgive Hollywood (or Spielberg I guess) for failing to make her the film star both she and we deserved. (For the record, she’s currently happy working in web design so this is just me being selfish.)
Buy My Chauffeur on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
Check out some past Missed Connections.