Is relentless, “normalized” sexual harassment ever funny? The creators of the irredeemable Mannequin surely think so.
In the film, there’s an annoying supporting character named Armand (Christopher Maher). He works with Roxie (Carole Davis), an ambitious brunette, at a high-scale metropolitan department store in Philadelphia. In scene after scene after scene, he won’t stop hitting on her. No matter how many times she says no or insists on keeping their relationship strictly professional, he insists and persists to an agonizing degree. Even after she shoves him down the stairs one night (don’t ask), he still won’t give up his undesired pursuit.
Realizing to her eternal horror that he’ll never drop it, she finally gives in and says she’ll go to bed with him. The fact that she is more resigned than enthusiastic about her decision speaks volumes. Fortunately, Armand is all talk and no action.
(Near the end of the film, she finds herself having to fend off another lonely co-worker who starts kissing her without asking and keeps going despite her repeated protestations. Played for non-existent laughs it’s easily the most uncomfortable moment, which is saying something.)
Meanwhile, Roxie’s boyfriend, Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy), has his own problems. He’s a little too fond of this mannequin he’s created. Because it took him weeks rather than hours to complete, his boss cans him for his meticulousness. An aspiring sculptor (which we never actually see him do), he goes from one crappy, dead-end job to the next before catching a break at another high-scale metropolitan department store run by Claire Timkin (a wasted Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls). She’s a third-generation owner worried about the future. Despite her family business turning 100, it’s on the verge of bankruptcy. They’re not getting a whole lot of customers these days.
Their only hope appears to be that rival store where Roxie works. Her slimy boss, B.J. Wert (Steve Vinovich), wants to buy it out and thanks to his inside mole (an uncharacteristically nerdy James Spader), he’s very close to getting it.
Unfortunately for them, there’s an incident that leads Claire to hire Jonathan as a stock boy. He’s very happy to get the gig because his treasured mannequin is here. (He spotted her one fateful rainy night in the store’s display window.)
About 20 minutes into the picture, the mannequin (the always lovely Kim Cattrall) suddenly, inexplicably comes to life. An understandably freaked out Jonathan learns the ageless beauty is really an Egyptian princess, more than 4500 years old, who successfully managed to avoid being betrothed to a camel dung salesman (I wish I were kidding) by summoning a desperate plea to the gods who then allowed her to escape somehow. I say “somehow” because I have no idea, beyond making her disappear in the film’s opening scene, what they actually did beyond that welcome gesture.
We learn she encountered famous figures like the revered painter Michelangelo who was too obsessed with his famed David to pay any attention to her. And that’s about all we learn because she soon becomes Jonathan’s muse which trumps all other considerations. After they screw around late at night when the store is closed (one sequence where they wear various outfits is choreographed like a lame 80s music video), Jonathan helps the store’s window dresser, Hollywood (a supremely overwrought Meshach Taylor from Designing Women), put together displays in a desperate effort to attract much needed walk-in traffic. (Emmy, the said mannequin who curiously can only be human around the stock boy, becomes a focal point in that window.)
Amazingly, Jonathan has the magic touch. (Rather quickly, he gets promoted and ultimately becomes a vice president.) His window displays attract large crowds (come on, they’re not that spectacular) and the store’s once pitiful future is suddenly much brighter (even though the store is selling the exact same merchandise as before). This doesn’t escape the attention of B.J. who erupts during a business meeting about the rather preposterously instant reversal of fortunes for his own store. (Sales are down 89%.) Shortly thereafter, his mole & his rival’s inept security guard (Police Academy’s permanently militarized G.W. Bailey) break into the store to steal the source of their misery.
Mannequin was released the day before Valentine’s Day in 1987 and in the almost 30 years since its modestly successful theatrical run that year, it has aged rather poorly. Try as you may, you’d be very hard pressed to laugh very often. (The overly generous Roger Ebert did so only once. I didn’t laugh at all.) As for the romantic pairing of Cattrall & McCarthy, what a mismatch. Their relationship feels more obligatory than natural.
Furthermore, Emmy the mannequin is a peculiar, inconsistent character. When we first meet her as a terrified runaway bride in ancient Egypt, she sounds like a feminist, eager to invent, explore her independence & refreshingly disinterested in settling down, especially with a stranger she barely knows. But once she encounters Jonathan, it’s all about him & what he wants. (You’d think she want to get the hell out of that goddamn store on her own. But no.) As they inevitably fall for each other (even though he’s also dating the hot-and-cold Roxie), there’s a ridiculous scene where he’s bursting with so much confidence, he tells her he can become a city planner! (Oh, for fuck sakes.)
Inconsistency is a recurring theme. When the security guard makes some anti-gay remarks about Hollywood, the overly flamboyant window dresser, Jonathan rightly calls him a bigot. But Jonathan rarely looks comfortable around Hollywood himself. (“Good grief,” he mutters to himself at one point.) At least the dopey security guard (and one other employee) aren’t pretending to be tolerant.
And then there’s the business of Emmy’s parlour trick. She’s not always a mannequin when others are around, especially during the film’s gross, completely bewildering ending. Since it’s never quite clear how she could become a mannequin in the first place when it was build from scratch (and she had already been in existence for thousands of years) the film could care less about establishing a simple, firm & logical rule about this. Instead, it’s far more interested in making Jonathan look like an idiotic pervert which no one at his store really cares about (beyond being secretly nosy about what he does with Emmy behind closed doors) because business is booming. (Even Roxie’s boss wants to hire him, albeit through cheesy blackmail.)
Mannequin is so remarkably out-of-date that feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian would have a field day carving it up if she hasn’t already done so. God knows it deserves it.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 26, 2014