Despite being filled with burning artistic talents just begging to be used, Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) just can’t hold down a steady job. There’s just no one that appreciates his creative visions.
That is until he gets hired as a window dresser at the glitzy department store Prince & Company. Impressing boss store owner Estelle Getty, Jonathan is tasked with working the overnight hours and soon meets a beautiful mannequin who comes to life in the form of Kim Cattrall! Ema is the victim of some Ancient Egyptian curse or something and now is a mannequin who can come to life when she’s alone with Jonathan. Just go with it.
Jonathan and Ema enjoy good times dancing in musical montages in the massive department store, they create some eye-catching window displays that capture the attention of everyone in Philadelphia and what do you know, this man and his plastic lady end up falling in love.
But what kind of future does a man and a mannequin have?
The 1980s had some very bizarre premises for movies. Aside from being some weird premises, what’s even more unusual is so many were mainstream releases from studios and ended up becoming popular box office hits. Audiences loved them and still look back on them as 1980s classics – regardless of their actual quality.
I don’t know, there was something unique going on in the 1980s where silly, frivolous movies filled theaters and audiences embraced them. Earth Girls Are Easy, The Toxic Avenger, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Teen Wolf, Everyone knew what Weekend At Bernie’s was and eager moviegoers helped to make it a sleeper hit. Maybe folks were just more open to having a fun time and were willing not to take a movie too serious.
If you were to compare Mannequin to similarly sounding films today, like Lars the Real Girl and Her, it really illustrates the difference of how a romantic story of a man falling in love with an inanimate object has changed since 1987. Today the male character who’s fallen for a plastic doll or an AI voice is mentally disturbed and needs psychological help. In the 80’s, he’s a romantic hero and it all is a sweet wholesome fairy tale!
Mannequin is a very silly, ludicrous and not a particularly funny movie. It’s just a lighthearted romantic romp. I can’t say I was ever terribly impressed with anything in the movie and was ever a fan of it. The comedy is exaggerated, unsophisticated, and really unfunny. You know the kind – cartoonish double takes, overdone flailing around prat falls, dull one liners.
Rather than being any kind of ‘classic 80s movie’, to me it’s more interesting to look at it now and experience what a romantic comedy in the 1980s once was. It’s this oddball artifact of a cinematic era long gone. It has the 80s clothes, the music, the by-the-numbers romantic story and of course those patented musical montages. That was a standard back then. Hey, studios had to sell the soundtrack albums!
McCarthy was only 24 at the time he made the film, but I always thought of him as a pretty lightweight actor. He’s likable enough in Mannequin and serviceable as the lovestruck window dresser, but I think the film could have been just as good or even better if they had cast another lead actor in this. I liked him much more in Heaven Help Us.
Cattrall is really the lynchpin and I believe made it so popular and why fans still remember this movie all this time later. She’s bubbly, likable, charismatic and looks incredible. Watching this any red-blooded guy would be envious to spend a night with her in a department store.
Obviously Cattrall went onto a long career in the years following Mannequin. Her roles in Porky’s and Police Academy have become something of a footnotes to her fans who fell in love with her on Sex and the City. Mannequin is a bit more notable from her past 80s work, considering she does play the title character and the film revolves around her. But it’s not exactly the most sophisticated role or story.
But heck, that’s what Mannequin wasn’t striving to be. Supposedly even during filming everyone knew this wasn’t a highbrow piece of art.
As the window displays get more and more attention and draw in customers, Jonathan’s career excels. The store owner Estelle Getty wants him to create more and more displays with Ema. It is rather funny looking at these supposed amazing window displays that are meant to be causing the city to stop in its tracks. They’re really not all that impressive.
Rival department store Illustra wants this damned talented window dresser to be stopped and are looking to hire him themselves. James Spader plays one of his earliest slime ball characters as the store manager who is secretly working for Illustra and has security guard G.W. Bailey (who basically plays the same kind of buffoon character as he did in the Police Academy films) spy on this window dresser and his mannequin.
Oooh a lot of silliness commences! McCarthy and Cattrall play dressup. McCarthy gets caught in awkward positions as Ema turns back into a mannequin when spying eyes interrupt them. And I can’t forget to mention flamboyant window dresser Meshach Taylor as Hollywood, who rose to fame in his colorful role, was the only actor here to return for the sequel Mannequin Two: On the Move and was on the popular show Designing Women.
Cattrall and McCarthy look like they’re having a grand time playing around with each other in this giant department store wearing flashy 80s threads while Jefferson Starship plays on the soundtrack. The story, as absurd as it is, is all filmed in a very straight forward uncreative way. Even the shots of Cattrall going from plastic to real and back again are just sharp cutaways and are awkwardly done. There’s really no finesse to any of it. The film plows ahead with it’s love story, the tried and trusted story of the evil greedy adversary and scenes are occasionally punctuated by a one liner from Taylor.
Mannequin is fluff. A whole heaping pile of soft, incredibly sweet, dripping 80’s fluff. But some folks really respond to fluff. That’s why the Hallmark Channel draws millions of viewers with their copy and paste rotation of Christmas movies. It’s romantic fluff 24/7!
Some might get hooked into the goofy romance between McCarthy and Cattrall, which clearly a lot of young fans responded to it. I don’t really understand the whole curse thing or how the story can end on such a happy note out of nowhere. I don’t think there’s meant to be any real logic to it. I’ll chalk it up to it just being a fun 80’s romcom.
It’s certainly not for me. It is what it is. It’s innocent and harmless, so I can’t get angry about it. There’s some eyerolling it invites though. And 80’s kids really enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s deserving of any kind of reevaluation. I think it remains what it always was since it hit cinemas in February 1987 – a silly, ridiculous, bizarre, romantic tale that is pretty poorly made, but Cattrall is a standout in it.
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