Thursday, September 20, 2018

Let's Hear It for the Boy

Because I “came of age” in the 1980s, the teen sex comedy, which arguably reached its zenith during this era, is dear to my heart and part of my DNA. Who could resist Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow running around naked in Private Resort, Tom Cruise dancing in his underpants in Risky Business or Tom Hanks actually exuding sex appeal in Bachelor Party? Here’s my personal favorite of this guilty-pleasure genre—Just One of the Guys (1985). 

Its storyline is as old as the hills but has served as a reliable plot device in sex farces since before the time of Shakespeare—the hero or heroine disguising themselves as the opposite sex, as familiar complications ensue. In Just One of the Guys, our leading lady—like countless other female protagonists from Viola in Twelfth Night to Katharine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria—pretends to be a man to break gender rules and achieve her objectives.

This high ’80s teen sex farce contains just about all the elements of that beloved genre. It’s not nearly as raunchy as, say, Porky’s, but there are titillating, split-second flashes of “brief nudity” throughout—from naked male butts in the obligatory locker room scenes… to a bedroom plastered with dozens of Playboy centerfolds… to a quick reveal of star Joyce Hyser’s bare breasts. 

But in my opinion, Just One of the Guys is a superior entry in the teen sex comedy category, well played by a bright and talented cast of young actors. With a witty script written by Dennis Feldman (The Golden Child) and Jeff Franklin (Full House) it’s also one of the few directed by a woman—Lisa Gottlieb, who directed only a small handful of films and TV shows, including Cadillac Ranch and Dream On.

Joyce Hyser as Terry
Suspecting she is the victim of sex discrimination when her story is not chosen by her journalism teacher, aspiring high school journalist Terry (Joyce Hyser) goes undercover at a neighboring school, posing as a boy to get her story published and win a prized summer newspaper internship. Her article, on the nutritional content of school lunches, is just as boring to the teacher at the new school, however, but Terry (of course) finds a new angle for her story: her temporary “sex change”.

As the popular high school senior who disguises herself as a boy to prove a point, Joyce Hyser’s bravura performance carries the film with finesse. Tall and curvy, with a solidly attractive bone structure, Hyser is equally alluring as a girl and as a guy. She fills out a small bikini impressively, but when she cuts off her hair, dons her brother’s clothes and deepens her voice, she transforms herself into an equally plausible (and good-looking) male. Unlike a Tony Curtis or Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot or a Barbra Streisand in Yentl, willing suspension of disbelief is barely necessary for the audience to believe in the deception. As Terry, Hyser easily gets in touch with her own masculine energy, looking and feeling the part. Watching some scenes, you’ll no doubt forget that the actor playing Terry is a woman. Hyser (This Is Spinal Tap, Valley Girl) truly triumphs in this iconic role.

Terry and Kevin (Leigh McCloskey), before the "sex change"

Hyser leads a cast of young performers who are as adept at well-timed wisecracks as they are attractive and winning. 

Billy Jacoby (who now uses the stage name Billy Jayne) steals every scene he’s in as Terry’s adolescent and perpetually horny little brother Buddy. The scene where Buddy teaches his sister about crotch-grabbing and ball-scratching is a classic, as are Buddy’s lame attempts to seduce his sister’s friends.

Billy Jacoby as Buddy

“What a fox,” purrs Sandy, played by a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilynn Fenn, who is determined to lose her virginity to the handsome, well-dressed new boy in school wearing the “bitchin’ tie.” When Terry agrees to go on a double date at a makeout spot called the cave, where the horny and predatory Sandy gropes for Terry’s fake sock-crotch and almost blows her cover.

Well-built, good-looking blond William Zabka, best known as Ralph Macchio’s nemesis in The Karate Kid, is Greg Tolan, who runs the school with his musclehead buddies, bullying the student body while dating prom queen Deborah Goodrich (All My Children). Among the freaks and geeks and weirdos at Terry’s new school (de rigueur to ’80s teen comedies like Revenge of the Nerds) who are terrorized by Zabka and company are Arye Gross (Big Eden) and Robert Fieldsteel as interplanetary dorks Willie and Phil (an obscure reference to another lost 1980s film). 

Sherilynn Fenn as Sandy
Matinee idol–handsome Leigh McCloskey (Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn, Dallas) plays Terry’s conceited college boyfriend who drives a sports car and and puts Terry down for cutting her hair and not wearing enough makeup. The farcical scenes with Terry making quick changes from female to male with Sherilynn Fenn in one room and Leigh McCloskey in the other are amusing and well played.

The theme of androgeny is explored in subtle as well as obvious ways in this film. Terry’s new friend Rick (Clayton Rohner) is soft and sensitive, with a lot of feminine energy—making Hyser’s Terry seem even more alpha male, tough and assertive. When Rick is unable to find a date, Terry takes charge to help his/her pal.

William Zabka as Greg
But it wouldn’t be an ’80s teen comedy without an unhealthy dose of gay panic in addition to the sexual confusion. Greg refers to anyone smaller or weaker than him as a “tulip.”(Better than “faggot,” I suppose.) Best friend Denise (Toni Hudson) is horrified what people will think of her when she is forced to accompany Terry to the prom (“The sad thing is, you’re the best date I’ve had in weeks…”). And at the beach party-themed prom at an oceanfront resort, when Terry bares her breasts to prove to him that she is a woman, a disgusted Rick blurts “Don’t worry, he’s got tits” when the crowd sees Terry kiss Rick and assume they’re gay lovers. Of course, all is resolved in the denoument and all's well that ends well, each of the principals finding their proper soulmate...

Clayton Rohner as Rick
Just One of the Guys is one of the most memorable teen comedies of the 1980s, intelligently written and directed and acted with timing and finesse by a talented young cast. It’s a film I enjoyed seeing then and still love watching now. 

This is an entry in the Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon, cohosted by my friend Quiggy at his engaging and prolific Midnite Drive-In blog. Thanks so much to all who have participated—I look forward to reading everyone’s entries! 


  1. Now I've never heard of this comedy, but it certainly sounds interesting, and judging from the pictures, the lead actress certainly makes a credible boy! I've never been crazy about this genre, but I might give this a look.

    My entry in the blogathon, "Belles of St. Trinian's" is live at Great Old Movies. I'm looking forward to reading the other entries!

  2. Bill, thanks so much for stopping by and for participating in the blogathon!
    I would definitely be interested in your take on this movie if you happen to see it. It’s feather light but quite well done, I believe. I was surprised that most of the stars except Sherilynn Fenn kind of faded into obscurity, but its not because they weren’t talented...
    - Chris

  3. Being the fan of teen sex comedies back in the 80's, I probably saw this, although I really can't recall. I need to watch it again (or for the first time, be whatever the situation may.) Thanks for helping out in the blogathon and thanks for this review.

  4. I am almost a little jealous when I read of the affection many have for these 1980s teen comedies. Being in another demographic, the genre and I never got together.

    Nonetheless, I was fascinated by this review and what appears to be an outstanding performance by the lead. I shall definitely tuck this title away and if we should ever cross paths it will be checked out happily.

  5. Hi Quiggy - you DO need to see this again, it's a blast, especially if you like movies like Porky's, Revenge of the Nerds, etc, which I was raised on!
    It has been a pleasure hosting the blogathon with you—you are a scholar and a gentleman!

  6. Hi Caftan Woman - I think you will be impressed by Joyce Hyser's performance--we'll both see how it stacks up against Jessie Matthews, who also makes a very handsome young man!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and especially for participating in our blogathon! You are awesome and I am always honored.