Popular and pretty, Terry Griffith (Joyce Hyser) is determined to land a summer job at the local newspaper. All she has to do is win a high school writing competition. Despite what she feels is a submitting winning entry, Terry loses and believes the only reason she wasn’t chosen as the winner is because she is a girl.
To prove her point, Terry decides to go through a change. She cuts her hair, raids her brother’s wardrobe and enrolls in a different high school as a boy.
Passing herself off as a guy doesn’t come easy. She has to rely on her adolescent and horny brother Buddy (Billy Jayne) to help her, she has to convince her college boyfriend Kevin (Leigh Mccluskey) there’s nothing strange going on and after befriending nerdy Rick (Clayton Rohner) and becoming his ‘guy pal’, she starts to fall for him.
Just One of the Guys, became a movie staple on cable in the mid-1980s. I think that’s where most fans of the film got introduced to it. Since then, the teen comedy gained fans, its been elevated to a cult favorite and the affection for it continues to this day.
I always find it fascinating how certain films got a renewed life from its showings on cable television and VHS. Cable networks at the time would constantly rerun films over and over again and of course it became a weekly tradition for teens to rent a VHS movie for a Saturday night.
The repetitive cable airings of certain films might’ve been because of the limited content they had available. But it was due to these airings that many films first got discovered by many young movie watchers, who eventually would fall in love with them.
Just One Of The Guys owes a great debt to its cable lifeline and VHS boost it received. It had a quaint success at the theatrical box office, but because of the amount of teen comedies that were filling movie theaters at the time, it didn’t get much attention.
Had it not been its repeated watches on cable and VHS, Just One Of The Guys might have quietly disappeared and been forgotten.
Fortunately, it hasn’t. The film attracted enough fans who still regard it as one of the great teen comedies of its time. It gave a lead role to an intelligent female character who’s goal wasn’t to win the title of prom queen, lose her virgintiy or to get a date with the hunky school quarterback.
It’s also been said the film has been an influence and beacon for adolescents who were struggling with their sexual identity in their teen years during the mid-80s. Just One Of The Guys fell into that line of cross-dressing movies – Tootise, Yental, Victor/Victoria, Some Like It Hot, I Was A Male Warbride.
It’s not just all the nostalgic affection that has kept the film alive, it’s also because it’s also a funny and good movie.
Director Lisa Gottlieb includes all the obvious gags a girl pretending to be a guy would entail – the comical situation of going to the boys bathroom, being stuck in the gym locker room – but she also manages to get past the jokey premise, makes a believable lovelorn story for Terri and fills the film with likable, funny characters.
Terri and Buddy’s parents are luckily are gone for a two-week vacation. It’s a prefect time for teenage shenanigans. To prepare for her male charade, Terri gets tutored on how to be a guy from her brother Buddy, who provides enough comic relief for a handful of teen comedies. He’s very funny with his horny antics, blasé attitude and delivery of lines. I think most who’ve seen Just One of the Guys would note Buddy is a real comedic standout throughout the film.
Terri enrolls in a neighboring school dressed to kill. There’s the amusing line that “he looks like the Karate Kid”. She really does resemble Ralph Macchio in her hip threads and short hair.
She immediately meets school bully Greg Tolan played by the famed villain of Karate Kid and Back To School William Zaptka. I always thought it was nice to see how he has had a career resurgence with Cobra Kai and now seems more popular as ever. Plus, he must have fans coming up to him and not hissing at him when they see him. That must be refreshing.
Terri also meets the meek James Brown fan Rick (Clayton Rohner), who she doesn’t give much thought towards. According to IMDB Brown actually worked a few days with Rohner to teach him some dance moves.
After Terri’s article is again rejected for being too boring, she decides to stick around this school as ‘Terry’. This gender reversal perspective she’s now privy to surely would make a great compelling article!
She decides to make Rick her mission. If she can become his main ‘Bro’, hip him up, get him to come out of his shell and land him a date for the prom it could be an exciting enough story that will get her to win the writing contest and get her dream summer job at the newspaper.
Terri pulls a page from My Fair Lady and puts Rick through a makeover and pushes him to pursue a prom date. He has to adjust to wearing awesome ’80s threads’ and is hit with female rejection again and again.
She goes so far as as going on a double-date for a prospective prom date for him, but Terri learns Sandy (Sherilyn Fenn) is only interested in ‘Terry’ and saddles poor Rick with kid sister. This was a popular type of dating subterfuge in the 1980s.
Complications and farcical mishaps start to mount. Terri has to come up with constant excuses to her shallow college boyfriend Kevin (Leigh McCloskey) as to why she’s acting so strangely and suddenly has short hair. Buddy is more entertained than helpful by his sisters big plan. He’s much more concerned of finally getting to have sex while he has this parent-less freedom window open. Did I mention the prom is quickly approaching?
As strange as it might seem, this tutelage by Terri has given Rick a bit more confidence. He confronts and embarrasses bully Greg in the middle of the cafeteria and lands a date with his girlfriend, the popular Deborah (Deborah Goodrich) to the prom. This is exactly the happy ending Terri was hoping for as a big finale in her article!
While Terri should be proud and happy for Rick, it turns out after spending so much time with him, her buddy mentorship has turned into romantic feelings. She’s not too keen seeing him at the prom with anyone other than her. Which would be kind of odd since they’d both be wearing tuxes. Secrets must finally come out!
Along with the main characters, the film also has some oddball supporting characters. A reptile loving geek, the pair who act as if they’re visiting aliens from another planet, the bowling obsessed gym teacher. These are the the strange type of bizarro characters you would expect to see in an 80s teen comedy.
Rest assured, the soundtrack is dripping with 80s toe tapping tunes, including a title song and naturally the 80s wardrobe. You get all the 80s teen ingredients you’re looking for.
I can’t talk about Just One of the Guys without mentioned ‘the scene’. You know ‘the scene’. Trying to steer clear of spoiler territory – kinda ridiculous considering the movie is thirty-six years old – but Terri’s secret is inevitably revealed and Rick learns the true identity of his best bud. I know male teens at the time were quite taken by the scene. Ironically, though there is nudity it has nothing to do with the movie going for sexual titillation, but is played more emotional and dramatic.
Just One of the Guys is an engaging love story and the characters have more depth than the usual run-of-the-mill teen comedies that were filing up theaters at the time. It’s going for more refined laughs than drunken party scenes and guys trying to get girls shirts off. I think that’s a big reason why the film remains a fan favorite.
The ‘pretending to be a guy’ premise can only take you so far. Seeing a girl stuff the front of her pants with a pair of gym socks would run its course very fast. Had the film not been given any heart and the story between Terri and Rick made sincere enough that we get invested in it, the film might’ve been just another disposable teen comedy with a one-joke premise.
The film could have easily gone the route of quality like Tomboy or some low-grade, stupid teen film. It’s much classier and smarter than it really could’ve been. It’s much more a John Hughes film than a Porky’s.
The cast are all really good in their parts. Hyser is charismatic, pretty, funny, and is a good lead in this. I remember seeing this at the time and thinking I would see her in appear in more films, but she never became a prolific star of the 80s. Her best known role would be as the star of Just One of the Guys.
She continued acting in smaller roles in television and film. In 2011 she appeared on an episode of CSI playing a woman who masquerades as a man. She said it was something of a homage to her famous role as Terri/Terry. In 2012 she turned to focus on writing and producing screenplays.
I don’t want to sound overboard and have you think I consider Just One of the Guys a great piece of cinema. It’s an enjoyable and funny 80s teen comedy. During that decade, the ‘teen comedy’ genre was on fire, with an assembly line of films that were coming out about adolescents and high school life. It’s quite stunning how that genre is pretty much dead today. How often do we see a new teen comedy come out today? In the 1980s they were airdropping them onto teenagers heads constantly.
I don’t find it very surprising when I see ‘Best Of’ or ‘Favorite’ lists of teen comedies from the 1980s and Just One of the Guys finds a spot on it. It remains a very entertaining entry in the teen comedy genre.
A music montage of the title song ‘Just One of the Guys’ by Shalamar