Good Cinema: Outrageous Fortune (Dir: Arthur Hiller, 1987)

“You’re an actress. Bullshit him.”
“I don’t use my training to tell lies to people.”
“Then what do you use it for?”

When I write about films for this column (and its sister column, Bad Cinema), I like to spend a substantial amount of time with the movie and its universe, reading up on its significance, perusing what other critics had to say about it, or watching it multiple times, with director’s commentary if possible. For example, when I was writing about Vamp, I listened to Grace Jones on repeat; when writing about THX 1138, I made sure to watch George Lucas’ student films to gain perspective; and when writing about Sextette, I delved breast first into Mae West, reading her autobiography and fast forwarding through her terrible filmography.

Outrageous Fortune, however, is a film I have seen innumerable times, one of those childhood stalwarts, like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, that I could quote from memory. Yet, strangely, I do not own it. (Or PTA…yet mediocre BS like Igby Goes Down and the Ernest Goes To…Box Set line my shelves. Figure that one out…). Last night, I made a special trip to Amoeba, the giant media store on Sunset that seems to have everything in search of this gem, but it was nowhere to be found! Not even in the $1 bin! I even scoured the row of VHS tapes. You know you are desperate for Outrageous Fortune when you are scouring the row of VHS tapes… I could have rented it for $2.99 from YouTube or ordered it from Amazon in a Bette Midler 3 Pack for $14.98 (which I still may do and am kind of embarrassed I didn’t…), but for now, I am going from memory.

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OK, Outrageous Fortune is a buddy road movie starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long. That’s all I really need to say. What? You aren’t pulling your hair out in pursuit of its digital presence? Hmmm…OK.

Shelley plays Lauren, a stuck-up bitch who thinks she knows everything (so Diane Chambers…), yet works in a dime store; Bette plays Sandy, a hustler, promising sexual favors for information. They are both actresses at the end of their roads. Their paths cross when Sandy busts in to an audition looking for “one phone in this whole fucking town that works.” Lauren is beyond insulted that this woman, this thing, would dare interrupt her VPS exercises. And not only that! Since she’s there, she’s gonna audition too. Well, Lauren loses it:

“You do not audition for a man of Korzenowski’s reputation without the classic presentation: that’s Shaw, Ibsen, Shakespeare. I’m doing ‘Ophelia’s Mad Scene.’ I’m not waltzing in here off the street thinking, (with thick Brooklyn accent) ‘Gee, I think I wanna be an actress.'”

Sandy/Bette’s signature response: “You know what I bet? I bet you haven’t been laid in about a year.”

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Well, they both get in. After class and back at work, amidst Lauren’s utter frustration (“He let her in! And on scholarship too! I just bet I know what she did for an audition…”), Michael (Peter Coyote) strolls in asking for a pumpkin costume. One of his kids (he’s a teacher) has a learning disability and he thinks “it would give him such a boost if he had the best damn costume in the pageant.” Well, they don’t have any vegetables so Lauren, blinded by his beauty, decides to make him one. They end up in bed.

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Next day at class, she’s flying high. “My, my, my. THAT kind of evening, huh?” “Well, not the kind you’re used to. No money changed hands.” Later that day, we learn that Bette…is ALSO sleeping with Michael! Just wait until they find out their beloved is sleeping with the enemy! They’ll kill him!

Turns out they don’t have to. Michael blows up in a flower shop explosion. The women are devastated until they… well, just watch.

Knowing that Michael is at large, the two join forces to track him down and find out once and for all: who’s it gonna be!?

Long and Midler play off of each other perfectly (despite their onscreen struggles), elaborating on their well established personalities and finding new notes of brashness and sympathy, respectively. Their characters use their acting training to get tangled (and untangled) from drug dealers…

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…airline officials (I used to act out this scene ad nauseum…)…

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…whore house madams…

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…and the KGB.

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All in the pursuit of love. And of course, in the grand tradition of the buddy comedy, they become best friends.

Oh, yeah. George Carlin is in it too.

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And that guy from The Golden Girls who plays Gil Kessler.

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Check out my other Good Cinema reviews here.