Movie Review: Starstruck (1982)


Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from my friend Ben.

New wave beats and a failing family pub, elaborate pool parties and DIY sequined hot pants: Starstruck takes the excesses of the 80s entertainment industry and clashes them with a working class family struggling to stay afloat financially and emotionally, all set to a truly rockin’ soundtrack. Jackie Mullins (Jo Kennedy) works as a waitress by day but dreams of becoming a hit singer, which her fourteen-year-old cousin and manager/songwriter Angus (Ross O’Donovan) tirelessly encourages. Together they connive to land a spot on their favorite music tv show, hosted by the dashing Terry Lambert (John O’May), but all their hard work may be for nothing when Jackie’s new handlers insist on changing her look, her sound, and her band. She must find a way to kickstart her career, keep her friends, and help her family, all while staying true to her own wacky self.

I feel like the older I get the more I realize that 80s movies are really the only place I want to be. This goes double for horror films and films focusing on women and alternative subcultures. As you might have guessed, Starstruck is one of the latter. Its story is familiar- talented underdogs trying to make it big as musicians is a plot we’ve seen time and time again- and so its success really rides on other factors. Light in tone but throwing in a few elements of drama to make sure you’re really rooting for these characters, it’s a candy-colored rock musical with a low-budget air that soars on the likability of its actors and the super-catchiness of its soundtrack. (I have seriously been singing “Temper, Temper” all weekend.) The script is funny and a little kooky, throwing together low-brow humor with a bit of industry satire. The wild costumes and attitudes sported by our musical protagonists suggest a cool, fun, street-smart, gives-no-shit type of youth that I wish I was when I was a teenager.

I love the relationship between Jackie and Angus, who have a mix of sibling affection, professional teamwork, and age-difference frustrations. They’re both super cute individually, and the effect is multiplied when they’re together. Jo Kennedy has this awesomely bizarre stage presence, jerking around wildly with wide-eyed facial expressions, while remaining powerful and sexy. At first I thought the adorable Angus was meant to be read as gay- he’s shown as uninterested in sports and unpopular in school because of his fashion choices, and he seems to be holding up Jackie’s stage persona as a kind of role model or icon for himself. The film ends with him making out with a hot female stranger sooo my initial assumptions were kind of counteracted, but I definitely think it’s still a relevant deduction. Interestingly, there is a notable gay character in the film, the popular tv host Terry, and he’s not presented as a stereotype or villain, just a guy. He even gets in a great homoerotic dance number that pokes fun at limited perceptions of masculinity.

I love the characters, script, and music, but visually and aurally, Starstruck is already everything I could want. Big hair, big costumes, neon lights, so much taffeta, quick-cut music video editing, synthesizers, tight-rope walking, robotic choreography (with a bit of Busby Berkeley thrown in), cute boys, bedrooms plastered with magazine clippings and band posters, a van with a recliner on its roof. And if that doesn’t sound like a perfect movie already, there’s also a psychic grandma. And you know I love grandmas.

I’m gonna go watch it again.


Pair This Movie With: A fun counterpart is definitely Smithereens, Susan Seidelman’s feature debut from the same year. It portrays a similar underground music culture full of surface-cool young people, but unlike in Starstruck, its protagonist isn’t talented. She’s just a hanger-on. And everyone is a lot meaner in general because it’s set in New York.

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