O.C. and Stiggs

Year 1985

Daniel Jenkins   as   Oliver Cromwell "O.C." Ogilvie  
Neill Barry as Mark Stiggs
Paul Dooley as Randall Schwab
Jane Curtin as Elinore Schwab
Jon Cryer as Randall Schwab, Jr.
Ray Walston as Grandpa Ogilvie
Tina Louise as Florence Beaugereaux
Dennis Hopper as Sponson
Louis Nye as Garth Sloan
Martin Mull as Pat Coletti
Melvin Van Peebles   as Wino Bob
King Sunny Ade as Himself
Director - Robert Altman
Screenwriters - Ted Mann  
  - Donald Cantrell  

A lot of people, especially film critics, really dislike O.C. and Stiggs. I happen to think it's a little gem of movie. Some of those reasons are personal, so that's why this is a special movie and not being commented on as if it were mainstream.

Let's start with the director, Robert Altman. People LOVE Robert Altman. I don't know why. Either he kissed a lot of backsides or he set up an altar and strays came to worship. Take a look at what he directed. It's mostly pompous drivel. Gosford Park, Cookie's Fortune, The Company, Dr. T & the Women, The Gingerbread Man... I could go on and on with a list of movies that are dull, plodding, and full of themselves. But I won't. He did direct, or, according to the actors, fail to direct, M.A.S.H.. He also filmed The Player.

The Player is the point in Altman's career where he became adored. In order to prove that they're "with it", denizens of Harpywood like to pretend that they enjoy being skewered. When they're only tapped, as in The Player, then in true drama queen fashion, Harpywooders supramundanize the effort and pretend that the work is pithy and courageous satirizes the culture. What a load of hogwash.

Because Altman directed O.C. and Stiggs and didn't include them in its subject matter, Harpywooders and their fans disavow the effort. Which is too bad. O.C. and Stiggs is an attempt to parody movies like The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It misses often, but sometimes it hits.

Like all good parodies, O.C. and Stiggs can be enjoyed for its own sake as well as being a parody.

The plot of the movie is that O.C.'s (Jenkins) grandfather (Walston) is getting on in years and needs care. The grandfather is retired but has been denied his retirement benefits due to some small print in the contract of the insurance carrier, Schwab Insurance. O.C. and his buddy Stiggs (Barry) cannot get justice, so they do the next best thing and torment the owner of the insurance company and his family. That's the why. The how can be nearly surreal.

The boys are also fascinated by Africa and do things like call President Bongo of Gabon (on Schwabb's dime) and make a pilgrimmage to Flora Vista, Mexico, to catch their favorite group, King Sunny Ade and His African Beats, perform.

There are lots of little vignettes, and nearly all of them include a laugh or two. This is something that cannot be said of most of Altman's movies. But this is a guy sense of humor. My wife didn't laugh nearly as much as I did and another woman I know who saw the movie didn't understand the humor. But male friends get a kick out the movie.

There aren't any big stars cast as the main characters, so this may put some people off. As a society, we've come to that when appreciating a movie. Jenkins and Barry are great in their roles, so this shouldn't have worked against the movie, but since it's one of those teen things, it did.

The movie is filled with cameos of second-tier stars and they all do either good or great work.

I mentioned that there were personal reasons for my liking the film. I can't be objective as a result. If you lived in Phoenix in 1985, you'll know that Altman filmed in actual Phoenix locations and used locals for bit parts. For example, the restaurant "Ernesto's" really existed. When I worked there, it was called "Ernesto's Back Street". The maitre d' in the movie was my replacement in real life. The waiter is someone that I worked with. The sports bar where Bob Uecker gives his cameo was "Max's" and the mall was Metro Center. Big Surf is Big Surf. The radio station, KOPA, is one that used to listen to. Even the "Bugs Bunny Murder" in the movie strikes me as being based on an unsolved murder.

There's a lot going on in each scene, so if you watch this movie more than once, you can pick up things that you missed the first time. For example, early in the movie, Stiggs complains to O.C. that the water from an exploding water fountain should have been blue. Much later in the movie, O.C. is having a conversation with his crush, Michelle (Cynthia Nixon) and in the background, his grandfather is telling him that Stiggs called to say that the water should have been blue. If you focus on the conversation between O.C. and Michelle, you'll miss out on message from the grandfather.

O.C. and Stiggs dress for each scene. When they go to a wedding, they're in tuxudoes. When they go to the sports bar, they're wearing football uniforms. Visiting Sponson, a Vietnam vet suffering from paranoia, they dress in red, white, and blue. The outfits are fun to keep track of.

The story for the movie was originally penned for the National Lampoon as "Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs" but was changed by Altman for the movie because he didn't like idea of just another teen movie. The original story authors didn't like the changes because they felt that Altman lost the spirit of their tale. This is odd because Ted Mann contributed to both the National Lampoon story as well as the movie script.

There are some good lines such as...

Stiggs: Randall, how would you like to have more fun than you've ever had in your life?
Randall: I don't know. I've had a lot of fun. I have Legos, you know.

Stiggs: Here's a list of places I want this car to be totally unwelcome. Number one, funerals. Number two, affairs of state. You know, real formal ones. Ones with chamber music. Number three, wet golf greens. Number four, the Acropolis.
O.C.: Yes. Driving this car into the Acropolis should be completely horrifying to every civilized nation on earth.

Stiggs: This is real!
Sponson: Yeah, everything gets to be sooner or later.

O.C.: Stiggs was trying to kill fish with his mind.

Mrs. Stiggs: We can't delay the performance. I've already forgotten my lines!

Mr. Schwabb: I'm calling my lawyer.
O.C.: He's working for us now.

There's a send-up of white secularism. In one scene, the Schwabb house has been taken over by O.C. and Stiggs and turned into a half-way house for the homeless. When Mr. Schwabb pokes an intruder to find out what is going on, the man turns around. Without waiting for answer, Schwabb says, "You're black!" and walks away. Stiggs refers to his tall sisters and mother as "white watusis".

O.C. and Stiggs suspect that Stiggs' father is attempting to have an affair with the school nurse. She is the mother of a friend of theirs. They arrive at her apartment complex, see Mr. Stiggs' car, and rev the engine of theirs. (They've named their car, the one that's unwelcome at the Acropolis, the Gila Monster.) The father hears their car and races down the stairs of the apartment building to get away.

Stiggs: That's good for his heart.
O.C.: Mrs. Beaugereaux?
Stiggs: Taking the stairs.

I've read comments where people complain that O.C. and Stiggs are just cruel. These two have a reason for tormenting the Schwabbs even though they are obsessed by it. So, I discount that gripe. But there is one scene where they confront two gay teachers that I thought was cold and immature. Still, they use the encounter as a way to blackmail the men. The price paid for their blackmail is to delay the opening of the play, "Cactus Flower", one night so that King Sunny Ade and His African Beats can perform.

Now I've not listened to much African music and I've never heard of King Sunny Ade (pronounced A Day, as in, "An apple a day."), much less King Sunny Ade and His African Beats. I guess King Ade is a real king. He gave up being a ruler to play music. The music is good and catchy. It's like rock and roll combined with a bit of jazz with a tribal beat. It's not in English, but it's quite enjoyable nevertheless. Kind of like the fact that I enjoy Rammstein although I don't understand German.

Don't expect a lot with this movie and you'll be pleasantly entertained. Not all of the scenes work, and some are cringe worthy, but there's usually something entertaining right around the corner.

There's some nudity with "the sluts" when they go skinny dipping. There's also some blasphemy and profanity, but not much. It has limited chick flick potential. If you ever lived in Phoenix, especially if you lived there during the mid-80s, then this is a must see. If you like manic, near surreally connected scenes, then you'll enjoy the movie. If you like the old school National Lampoon style of humor, think Animal House, then you'll probably enjoy this. Keep your expectations low and it'll be fun viewing.

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