Published on May 22nd, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Just One of the Guys 
Summary: A lame premise and muddled message but this one's a charmer. The anti-'Fast Times...' as no one involved was ever heard from again!
PG-13 | 90 min.
Director: Lisa Gottlieb | Screenplay: Andrew Fogelson
Starring: Joyce Hyser, Billy Jacoby, Clayton Rohner
Studio: Columbia Pictures | Box Office: $11,528,900 (#72 for 1985)
As subgenres go, the “cross dressing” flick is among the least plausible but I’ll be damned if they aren’t charming.
The entire length of Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire, I was thinking how ridiculous the idea of me not recognizing my dad in drag would be–but it’s still a sweet movie and one of the funniest roles Robin Williams has ever played. Sydney Pollack’s classic Tootsie is a little more believable but still full of zany situations as Dustin Hoffman strikes it rich wearing lady’s clothing. Both films made it onto the American Film Institute’s 100 funniest films list in 2000, with number one being 1959’s Some Like it Hot, featuring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag.
Clearly, audiences dig guys dressed as dolls. But what about the flipside?
The 1985 high school comedy Just One of the Guys puts its female protagonist Terry (Joyce Hyser) in boy’s clothes with a short haircut–but instead of being fun romps like those gender-bending pictures before them, opts to teach us a lesson about equality.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about films with a message but this one gets it muddled when 80 minutes in–in its most famous scene–director Lisa Gottlieb opts for a shameless topless scene. That reveal (pun intended), has made Just One of the Guys a male favorite in the home video age but also results in this comedy being lumped in with Porky’s.
From literally the start of Just One of the Guys Gottlieb seems to be playing a trick on us. As the opening titles roll over Midnight Star’s “Girls Got Something Boys Ain’t Got”, the camera draws our gaze to Terry’s body in white cotton underwear as she gets out of bed. We can’t help but stare, like a similar scene later on when she hangs out by the pool in a skimpy bikini.
Once her day at Edwina Pearl High School in Arizona starts, we wade the depths of Terry’s apparently shallow soul–as she tells her best friend Denise she may have to “skip prom” because none of her prospective dates are A) hot enough or B) have good cars. We see some depth in our lead character when we discover she’s an aspiring print journalist, disappointed her recent article didn’t win her an internship at the local newspaper. Convinced she was only overlooked for not having a penis, Terry cuts her hair, puts on her brother’s clothes and enrolls in a neighboring school to find out what life is like with a y chromosome.
It’s obvious Just One of the Guys is a commentary on sexism after early dialogue from Terry’s journalism teacher Mr. Raymaker (Kenneth Tigar) questions her career path, saying, “You’re a great girl. You should be a model.” This is a chick who’s got an Ernest Hemingway poster above her dresser in addition to about 4 Bruce Springsteen posters in her bedroom, which we’ll address later.
Terry’s 15-year-old brother Buddy is an important character, serving as comic relief and the film’s most entertaining character. He’s the prototypical horny teen, constantly talking about sex in a jokey manner. “I’ve had lots of sex, it’s just now I want to try it with a partner,” he says in an early scene, later he kindly offers Terry to invite her girlfriends over for a slumber party, adding, “They can use my bedroom, they can use my body. I wanna help!”
Buddy is played by Billy Jacoby, who hams up every minute of screen time he gets, wearing the joke pretty thin after just a handful of scenes. Despite a sizable role in this movie, Jacoby’s acting career didn’t take off after Just One of the Guys, instead he went on to become a commercial director after acting in some projects called Demonwarp and Dr. Alien.
This trajectory is pretty much unanimous for cast and crew members of this movie, leading me to label Just One of the Guys the anti-Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Where the latter picture launched the careers of Oscar winners Sean Penn, Forest Whittaker and Nicolas Cage–not to mention director Amy Heckerling–Just One of the Guys didn’t produce a single name that would ring a bell ten years later.
Joyce Hyser gives a solid, thoughtful performance in a strong teen role but is now most famous for being Bruce Springsteen’s girlfriend for about 5 years in the ’80s (thus the bevy of posters in Terry’s bedroom). She surprisingly isn’t even remembered as a sex symbol, despite the infamous topless scene and her undeniable sexiness in the role. Clayton Rohner, who played the film’s love interest Rick Morehouse, went on to do guest spots in a handful of television shows but never had a meaningful place in cinema again. As for director Lisa Gottlieb, she helmed a couple of pictures in the ’90s but later put down the camera to become a college professor.
As I said, Just One of the Guys didn’t exactly hurtle anyone into the stratosphere.
The plot to this film gets pretty ridiculous as you think about it (How does she just take a couple of weeks off school? Can you simply walk into a high school, register and begin taking classes that day?)–so it’s best to just let it roll by. With this one it tries hard to focus on a message of gender inequality but comes off feeling reverse-sexist as every male character but one is a chauvinistic asshole. Rick is depicted as a nice, normal guy who likes to keep to himself until Terry gets involved with him. She gives him a “Welcome to the eighties” makeover that FINALLY gives him the confidence to gain the respect of his classmates. Talk about a strong, positive message for kids, right?
Once the cross-dressing begins, Just One of the Guys devolves into the kind of flick where you sit and wait for the next wacky situation to ensue, wondering if Terry’s gonna get caught in her lie. Because this is a high school movie, the climactic scene of course takes place at prom–with a live band that looks like they would know where to score some great coke. The prom scene features even the nerdiest kids at school on the dance floor decked out in full nerdy regalia…ya know, just in case you forgot they were nerds.
In the end, we see only one line of Terry’s supposedly outstanding piece of journalism as it sits in the typewriter and it’s a question lede, pretty much a Reporting 101 no-no. I’m not sure what I expected from a girl who asks deep questions regarding misogyny to a high school sophomore.
Perhaps I’m thinking about the wrong thing(s) but I can’t help but wonder why Terry wouldn’t at least tape her boobs down á la Christina Ricci in Now and Then. I mean, she’s just been letting those things fly under her clothes each day during this experiment? Anyways…that’s what happens when you throw an epic topless scene into a semi-preachy picture about looking past gender. Mixed messages are the worst!