This was another post that had sat in my drafts for months. It’s not as polished as I’d like it to be, nor does it say everything I wanted it to, but I know I would never publish it if I waited for it to be ‘perfect’.
When I wrote about The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned some of the movies that were important to me in my teen years. One of these was Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I was probably 14 or so when I watched this film, with my best friend at the time (she was the Michelle to my Romy, the Betsy to my Arlene and so on) and since then it has been one of my favourite films. I’ve not only shared it with that particular friend, but other friends, too, equally important to me over the years. The two friends that I shared it with most are still very important to me and in my life.
It became a favourite because I liked the clothes, it had one-liners that my friends and I could quote, a great soundtrack as well as being a funny, feel-good film.
But, why is Romy and Michele still an important film for me? There are a few reasons, one of which is nostalgia/sentimentality, but the biggest one is that it prioritises friendship (between women) over romance and it shows just how important friendship can be.
When Romy and Michelle fight it’s not over a guy in one way or another – it’s because Michelle feels undervalued in the friendship. That Romy doesn’t view her as an equal contributor. And, yeah, they do fight over who’s cuter but the catalyst for the argument is that Romy doesn’t think anyone would see Michele as a ‘thinker’ and it hurts Michele’s feelings.
But then Michele has a dream (one of the stranger dream sequences inserted into a film) in which she and Romy grow apart and grow old, without being friends, and she is heartbroken. She asserts herself to Romy at the same time as making it up to her, realising that most of their fight stemmed from Romy’s own insecurity that her life wasn’t impressive enough to present at their high school reunion.
Michele does end up with a boyfriend but the film doesn’t end with them together in their ‘happily ever after’ – it ends with Michele’s ‘happily ever after’ with her best friend, Romy, and their new boutique.
I also like that neither Romy nor Michelle are wealthy – in fact, Michelle is unemployed and Romy is undoubtedly working minimum wage. And, even though they have great clothes (which they design and make themselves), their apartment is fairly small. I mean, they even share a room! I’ve always wondered what happened if they wanted to invite someone over for the night, actually…
It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Romy and Michele are white, hetero and conventionally attractive cis-women. And when cinema does present women’s stories it is still overwhelmingly through women such as them. I think it’s important to address that and to address the limitations of films. But as a film that is important to me, personally, there are few more important than this one. And it’s never not satisfying to see Romy tear into Christy.
Oh, and there’s Alan Cumming. He joins Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in one of my all-time favourite dance sequences, which I shall leave you all with. (I get a little misty eyed each time Michele says ‘Only if Romy can dance with us.’ <3)