Directed by Jeff Kanew
Written by Pamela Norris & Margaret Grieco Oberman
Story by Ava Ostern Fries
Starring Shelley Long, Craig T. Nelson, Betty Thomas, Mary Gross, Stephanie Beacham, Shelley Morrison, & Audra Lindley With Jenny Lewis, Carla Gugino, Emily Schulman, Ami Foster, Kellie Martin, Aquilina Soriano, Tasha Scott, & Heather Hopper
Release Date: March 24, 1989
Running Time: 1hr 45min
Phyllis Nefler (Long) is a socialite Beverly Hills wife recently separated from her husband, Freddy (Nelson), a wealthy owner of an auto shop chain. In an attempt to maintain the relationship with her daughter Hannah (Lewis) during the contentious divorce, Phyllis becomes the new den mother of Hannah’s unruly, leaderless local girl scout troop of Wilderness Girls.
She’s far from a wilderness person, but she’s determined to prove she can finish something she started. She immediately ruffles the feathers of Velda Plendor (Thomas), who leads her scouts like a military organization, and doesn’t care for Phyllis’s unorthodox ways, feeling she’s just making the girls soft. Through her leadership, Phyllis becomes a surrogate mother to all the girls and teaches them to believe in themselves, while she gains a sense of self worth.
The film was poorly received by critics at the time, and only earned $8.5 million against an $18 million budget. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a rating of 8% based on 13 reviews (I rarely take their ratings into consideration personally, especially with few reviews). However, in recent years it has become a cult classic for a subtle feminist message and being unapologetically 80s.
I recall seeing this one on TV all the time as a kid (Disney Channel I’m pretty sure) and very much enjoying it. It’s a movie I think about every so often, so I decided to give it another watch and see if it held up like when I was a kid. It very much did! This movie is absolutely delightful! It’s silly for sure, but it also has so much wit and charm to it. It is indeed unapologetically 80s, which is a plus in my book! Shelley Long is fabulous as Phyllis, plus this was during the peek of her comedic talents. Betty Thomas is a fun over the top villain (she’d go on to be a successful film and TV director), and the rest of the supporting cast does a good job too.
The young actresses playing the Wilderness Girls are all well cast, and the film manages to give them all well defined backstories and distinct personalities. The two best known in the troop cast would most likely be Carla Gugino and Jenny Lewis (who many will also remember being in the cult classic/Nintendo commercial The Wizard released the same year); Gugino would go on to be a successful actress (in films like Son in Law, Watchmen Sin City, Spy Kids), while Lewis a successful musician (first in the band Rilo Kiley and then a solo career).
I’m also gonna give a shoutout to the opening credits, which were animated by Ren & Stimpy creator, John Kricfalusi (yes, his reputation isn’t great, but there’s still no denying his contribution to animation). It’s paired up with a cheesy fun song by legendary band The Beach Boys (sadly the song isn’t available on any music streaming services that I’m aware of, besides uploads to YouTube).
So yeah, if you like cheesy 80s fun with a girl power message, I say give this one a watch!