Valley of the Dolls

This week we hang out with three show-business babes, all with very real issues. I read the book a long, long time ago when I was travelling and was really into the sixties vibe. Since then this movie has been kicking around on my wish list and I can’t believe it’s only now I’m finally committing to it.

Film version of Jacqueline Susann‘s best-selling novel chronicling the rise and fall of three young women in show business.

Barbara ParkinsPatty DukeSharon Tate

Dolls to put you to sleep at night, kick you awake in the morning, make life seem great – instant love, instant excitement, ultimate hell!

*Minor spoilers/TW: suicide*

Valley of the Dolls follows the rise and fall of three best friends, Anne Welles (Perkins), Neely O’Hara (Duke) and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Anne is new to NYC, having left the bosom of New England for a job as a secretary. Her boss is a theatrical lawyer which seems potentially fortuitous but for now affords her the opportunity to accompany him to his show business appointments.

One of her first experiences is meeting the diva Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), a legendary actress and performer. She’s there in fact, when plucky talent Neely is fired by a jealous Lawson. Ms Lawson is not having anyone threaten top billing on her show of all things. Luckily, the firm’s attorney Lyon Burke helps Neely get work and she swiftly becomes a rising Hollywood star. Neely and Anne also become firm friends – and Jennifer, another actress of limited talent makes three.

The young women share their experiences as their stars ascend – and men come in and out of their lives. Anne herself is having a relationship with the not very nice Lyon and is driven to drugs to deal with his affairs. Neely is a wild card who starts to display erratic and brattish behaviour, the more famous she gets. Her drug use drives a wedge between her and her husband, Mel and she has an ill-advised affair with a fashion designer.

Jennifer meanwhile, follows Neely to Hollywood and meets sexy nightclub crooner Tony Polar, whom she marries quickly and then gets preggo. Unfortunately, Tony falls ill and his domineering sister Miriam reveals that he has a nasty hereditary condition. His mental and physical health takes a nosedive and he’s sent to a sanitarium to rest. Funnily enough this is the same institution that Neely is sent to to dry out. When they bump into each other, the pair share a sweet moment in the common room – and Neely is inspired to get better – and get her career back on track.

Alas, Jennifer starts to crack under the pressure put upon her by her own mother – and this situation with her husband. Fearing for the safety of their unborn child, she has an abortion. She also takes some work in some French “art films” to keep the money coming in. When she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s the last straw and rather than turn to her mum – who’s outraged about what her friends will think of Jen’s soft-core porn career – she takes tragic action.

I have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE! ~ Neely O’Hara

Neely has an affair with Lyon, yes the same Lyon that was also seeing Anne – and has a cat fight with Helen Lawson which I enjoyed immensely. When she hits rock bottom a second time, who will be there to help her up? And what will become of pretty Anne? When she quits the dolls and leaves New York for a quieter pace of life, things start to look up again. Will she give it all up for cheating Lyon, who chases her down to propose to her?

Well, I like the ending of this film but I felt very sad about Jennifer’s story line. Maybe it’s because of who plays her, I’ve never seen Sharon Tate in the flesh in an acting role and it’s kind of hard to look at her. Jennifer’s pure heart makes her vulnerable and her own admission that without her body she’s nothing is heartbreaking but also kind of true by Hollywood standards. The plot cuts her absolutely no slack and I’m furious about it. I wanted her to have the happiest ending of all.

All the women are great though. I have to admit that I had severe white man blindness throughout this movie – all the husbands and lovers looked identical to me. As a result I didn’t follow who was who as closely as I should have. Honestly, while there are choice moments and the central performances are good, this is quite a long movie and it’s boring in places. However, it’s sixties aesthetic is chic as fuck and I’m going to stockpile black kohl tomorrow, let me assure you.

As for the feminist angle, I guess it is a pretty interesting study of three different types of women. Anne is liberated sexually and not after a husband thanks, while Neely finds her validation in the attention of men. In turn, Jennifer is the epitome of femininity but struggling to find her more than. If she’s reduced to just being a gorgeous body and then loses that – what the hell does she have left?

Again I wish I’d been more into this, as it is I’m glad I’ve seen it now and I’ll probably think of the girls fondly but it’s not life-changing.

Film details:

Valley of the Dolls
Year: 1967
Director: Mark Robson
IMDB Rating: 6/10
My Rating: 3/5

What does my living doll think of the Dolls? Would she chase them down with a hearty gulp or go cold turkey? Find out here.

I’ll Be There For Jen

I’m currently working my way through Friends for the 77th time in my life and, while it has not aged well in its attitudes to certain things (toxic masculinity + slut-shaming + fat-shaming + Ross being a decent person) – I still love it. The most prolific thing I take from this current re-watch is that Rachel was so well-suited to Joey – and I wish they’d ended up together. In Paris, living their dreams with Emma in tow.

Anyway, it has also stoked the Jennifer Aniston fires and I am fully entrenched in a massive crush on her right now. Which is both good and bad. Great because what a handsome babe she is, a deeply likeable actress with superb comic timing. Also terrible because she’s in a lot of movies that aren’t always worthy of her. Which doesn’t stop me watching the fuck out of them, obviously but I’m mostly watching for my girl.

These are the JA vehicles I’ve (mostly) enjoyed recently:

Meet the Millers (2013)

Jen plays stripper Rose who teams up with her dodgy neighbour David (Jason Sudeikis) to pull off a drug-smuggling mission across the Mexican border. They rope in a couple of local kids to help them pose as an ordinary family on vacation – with hilarious consequences. Sort of.

This film has a really good cast, including Emma Roberts, Kathryn Hahn and Will Poulter so it’s not all bad. If you’re watching mainly for Jennifer then there’s nothing to be disappointed about. While there are moments of slut-shaming Rose’s chosen career path which are not cool – and there’s a scene set up just so Jen has to strip for a bunch of sleazebags – her character proves she’s more than just a tight bod and good hair. There have been better showcases for her comedic skills, which we’ll look at below but I will give it:

3 swishy Rachel cuts out of 5

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Did you know America’s Sweetheart is very good at playing super bitches? In this Christmas movie, she is hard-faced Carol, sister of company boss (and fuck up) Clay (T.J. Miller). Hellbent on shutting down the Chicago branch of family business Zenotek, she gives Clay one night to seal his final deal – if they can get financial wizard Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to sign with them, the branch is safe.

Little does she know they’re doing it by throwing the year’s biggest and best party, something she’s expressly forbidden. Luckily, Carol’s safely on her way to London so will never know… right?

Jen looks amazing and really gets her chops around the film’s snarkiest character with some amazing lines. Sorry but one of my highlights is her saying “Fuck you” to a kid in the airport lounge. As Carol loosens up somewhat and slowly comes round to Clay’s way of thinking, she’s even better. Don’t even get me started on her single-handedly taking down an army of Russian henchmen with her bare hands.

This film also boasts a who’s who of American comedy gold AND the ethereal goddess Olivia Munn but it’s all about Carol for me.

3.5 swishy Rachel cuts out of 5

Murder Mystery (2019)

Audrey Spitz is a hairdresser married to NYC police officer Nick (Adam Sandler). She enjoys salon gossip and murder mystery novels – and dreams of the European break her husband has been promising her since they tied to knot. On their 15th wedding anniversary, Nick presents her (in a panic) with her fantasy honeymoon – and things take an intriguing turn when Audrey makes the acquaintance of Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) on their flight.

When Charles invites the couple to join him and his fucked-up family on their yacht for the weekend – and there’s a brutal murder – the Spitz’s find themselves embroiled in a real life mystery that they must solve or have it pinned on themselves.

I bloody loved this film and I’m not sorry. As with so many Adam Sandler flicks, it’s not the purest form of comedy but it has heart. Sandler and Ms Aniston have decent chemistry and I’ll go into that more below but this is a fun romp which features one of my fave movie tropes – amateur sleuthing.

4 swishy Rachel cuts out of 5

Just Go With It (2011)

If I believed in guilty pleasures, which I don’t, this would be one. Since I believe in owning everything that you love, I stand by my absolute adoration for this stupid movie, which is my favourite of the bunch. Jen is Katherine, assistant to man-child plastic surgeon Danny (Adam Sandler, again).

Danny, meanwhile hooks the ladies by pretending to be unhappily married to a made-up wife who abuses him (I know, it stinks). When he meets much younger (I know), much hotter Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), he decides he wants to make it a more permanent thing. He tells his new beau that he’s divorced which would be fine, except Palmer is a good girl who wants to meet the ex-wife to make sure everything’s cool.

In steps Katherine as fake ex-wife, Devlin. Her two children, Maggie and Michael also negotiate themselves into the melee and Danny finds himself with an instant former family. Fake Devlin of course has the best wardrobe ever and is also faux-bitchy – and I love it, especially when they accidentally bump into the real Devlin (Nicole Kidman), Katherine’s frenemy from college.

No prizes for guessing what happens in this rather obvious romantic comedy but I’m game. And, while so much of it is problematic – and Sandler films in general are often the same – it reminds me why films like The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates worked so well. He is capable of being a sympathetic character when he wants to be and I wish he’d bear that in mind.

Again, I think the chemistry between the two of them is convincing and realistic, even if the plot isn’t. And I root for them to get together every time.

4.5 swishy Rachel cuts out of 5

So that’s my mini Aniston-retrospective. I just think she’s very cool and she’s getting better every day. Her recent turn in Dumplin’ was really touching and frankly, I can’t wait to see what she does next. So much has been written about Jen in the media and I think it’s so unfair that it still follows her around – I think she’d be fascinating to get a drink with and I wouldn’t even bring up Angelina.

What are your favourite Aniston moments?