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Tomboy
(1985)

Director: Herb Freed 
Cast:
Betsy Russell, Gerard Christopher, Kristi Somers


If you have been reading my reviews for quite some time now, I hope that you have safely concluded one certain thing about me. And that certain conclusion is that I am a MAN. As you can see from my reviews, there's no doubt that I love hard core action films as well as various exercises in bloody horror. I like to think that I am a MAN in many other aspects of my life as well. For example, I like my steak cooked medium, because not only do I like that hint of raw taste as I sink my teeth down in a T-bone, being a man I am too lazy to cook the steak to a well done state. Also, being the manly man that I am, I do not understand women. Wait, scratch that last remark. While I will admit that there are a lot of things about females that confuse me, there are a few things about the fairer sex that I have learned over the years. One of these things, which happened to be a pleasant surprise, was that there are a few women who have an interest in unknown movies - I've learned I have several loyal female readers. Another thing that I have learned is that women can, under the right circumstances, become a deadly foe. Years ago I watched this movie - I forget both the title and the actors who were in it - that had one scene with two characters discussing strategy when it came to the proposed situation of attacking a camp of rebels. When it came to the question as to which rebel should be shot first when the attack started, one of the duo stated that any women fighters should be shot first. He explained as follows: A woman would have to work much harder than her male counterparts to be accepted as a fellow fighter, so her combat skills would have to be extremely high, making her more dangerous than your average male soldier.

I remember that when I originally watched that movie clip, that explanation did seem to make some sort of sense. As I got older, I was even more convinced after hearing several stories from friends about the police in my city. They claimed that they or people they knew had encounters with female police officers, and the female police officers were a much bigger pain in the butt than what they had experienced with male police officers. Obviously, these female police officers must have sometime down the line figured out they had to be more aggressive to be taken seriously by both the public and their male counterparts. Anyway, these reports, along with other observations I have made elsewhere over the years, did teach me something about women. And that was that under the right circumstances and with the right women, women can do just about anything that a man can do. Oh, there are certain times when I think there has to be a fairness when doing a side-by-side comparison. For example, in a weight lifting competition, I don't think it would be right to have any women contestants competing directly with men. As you no doubt know, evolution (or God) has dictated that women do not have the potential to have the great strength that male bodybuilders can have. So it only seems fair that women bodybuilders should not be forced to compete directly with male body builders. But if a woman bodybuilder did want to compete directly with men, well I would have no problem with that. The competition that the woman in question would face would no doubt have to be fiercer, making it very difficult to win. But her great efforts despite the odds might make her manage to win over an audience.

While it may be argued that there are some fields like bodybuilding that women may have difficulty with, there are a number of positions in life where a women can be on an equal - or greater - level with their male counterparts. In various office jobs that I've had during my life, I have Tomboyencountered plenty of women who worked by my side. But I want to get back to sports. Women have shown that they are just as good as men in some sports, like the notorious time when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis in 1973. Then there's auto racing. I have to admit that my knowledge of auto racing is pretty limited, so the only woman I know who became an auto racer is Shirley Muldowney, whose story was told in the 1983 movie Heart Like A Wheel. Maybe there are others, but as I said, my knowledge of the sport is very limited. That may explain why when I found a copy of Tomboy, it seemed fresh and new to me. It concerned a young woman who was a budding race car driver. This got me curious, wondering how this female character would stand up in a traditional male profession. The tomboy of the title is one Tomasina Boyd (Russell, Avenging Angel), who goes by the nickname "Tommy". Though Tommy has female best friend Seville (Somers, Savage Streets) in her life, Tommy has otherwise immersed herself in a man's world - she works as an auto mechanic and has dreams of one day being an auto racer. But while her life is one that's in a man's world, she doesn't have any desire to take things on with a man further than friendship. But one day, a customer coming in to pick up a car she's worked on brings with him Randy Starr (Christopher, Superboy), a famous car racer who has been hired by a local bigwig to race for him. Randy and Tommy soon hit it off, and for a while things seem to be going well for them until Tommy's aspirations to be a car racer herself clash with Randy's pride and standing in the race community. Will Tommy have to squelch her own dreams and desires in order to keep things well with Randy?

As I indicated in the previous paragraph, I was hoping that Tomboy would be a kind of serious look at a woman trying to compete in a sport that is normally associated with men. But deep down, I had a feeling that I wouldn't get that. You see, Tomboy is a movie from Crown International Pictures. If you know the product from that studio, you will know that their films are typically more interested in showing what's under a woman's blouse than what is going on under the hair on the top of her head. Actually, in the end the movie does not lean heavily to one or another of these extremes - it ends up being a curious mix of several angles. Certainly, the movie makes a lot of excuses to showcase nudity. While there are a couple of bare male behinds shown during the course of the movie, otherwise Tomboy seems very interested in showing female nudity, the first such instance happening in the opening credits. Indeed, a lot of the excuses for nudity seem very contrived, such as when Tommy falls into a river and has to change her shirt. On the other hand, while the movie has a lot of interest seeing Tommy undressed, there is also effort made to empower her. She is a confident auto mechanic, one that gets her accepting boss at one point to tell someone she is one of the best that's worked for him. Other men in her life treat her no differently than their male buddies, like the friends she plays basketball with. True, there are some men who cross her path that only have one thing on their mind, but Tommy takes no guff from them, and makes them look foolish in the end. Most importantly, she is shown to be a decent person, one that will make you root for her in whatever challenge she is made to face. The movie likes Tommy, and more likely than not you will like her too - for the most part. (More on this later.)

Interestingly, while Tommy is a woman that is very likable, she is shown to not be perfect. Until the character of Randy Starr enters her life, the movie suggests that her great desire to do manly things has pretty much robbed her of a romantic life. True, a lot of the men that she encounters are kind of jerks, but sometimes her treatment of them seems a little harsh. We see there is room for improvement, and at first the way to that seems to be with the Randy Starr character. Unfortunately, this part of the movie manages to be a big disappointment. The movie seems really slow in bringing Tommy and Randy together - they just have two or three scenes together in the first half of the movie. And when they eventually strip down and do the nasty, it is not the least bit convincing, because they never had a deep conversation together that showed us the workings of their minds, or for that matter why they are attracted to each other. In fact, the characters are lacking detail in other parts of the movie as well. While Tommy may come across as likable a number of times, I would have liked to know what was driving her to do masculine things. The movie has ample opportunity to do so - we learn in a flashback that Tommy had an astronaut father who supported her in little league as a child, and Tommy's friend Seville at one point says Tommy should be dating. But in these and other similar scenes, Tommy says nothing or simply changes the subject. The most we get to know Tommy is one scene when she says, "The more you depend on others, the more punishment you're setting yourself up for." That's a kind of cynical thought, and a follow-up to that could have really given us insight to this character. But we never learn why she feels this way. This character is severely underwritten.

The character of Tommy is not the only one lacking significant dimension in the screenplay by Ben Zelig. About all we learn about Randy Starr is that he's a champion race car driver, and all we learn about Tommy's best friend Seville is that she's an aspiring actress. Seville, by the way, seems to serve no purpose except to pad out the running time with one long scene of her acting in a donut commercial. In fact, her character soon disappears for a long time and doesn't get seen again until the climatic auto race. With flat characters like those, in additional to flat attempts at comic relief here and there, it should come as no surprise that Ben Zelig never had another screen credit. Despite the humdrum script, the entire enterprise might have reached a watchable level if the other participants put some energy in their respective roles. But nobody connected with this movie seems to have wanted to spark things up. Betsy Russell looks cute, but her performance at times lacks quite a bit of enthusiasm. In fact, there are a few moments where she can't hide what appears to be hostility to simply being there, and her grumpiness alone in those scenes drains a lot of fun. Maybe it's in part due to the passionless direction by Herb Freed (Graduation Day). I understand he was working with a pretty low budget, which explains why there are precious few "wide" shots, and with many scenes looking like they were decorated and choreographed two minutes before the camera started rolling. But that doesn't excuse the fact that he doesn't seem to find any part of the story all that interesting or worth exploring in detail. The idea of a tomboy auto mechanic seems ripe for material. It could have been a soft core sex romp, a goofy comedy, or a serious look at a woman trying to find a place in a man's world. Tomboy tries to do all three things, but in the end doesn't manage to completely accomplish any of them. This is one project where the filmmakers should have had one clear vision before the first scene was shot.

(Posted January 15, 2016)

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See also: Bonnie's Kids, Malibu High, My First Mister

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