If you were a girl of the 80s and 90s, chances are you grew up with a well-worn VHS copy of Troop Beverly Hills in your home collection. The 1989 slumber party staple stars Shelley Long as Phyllis Nefler, a Beverly Hills housewife who finds her world turned upside down when her husband, auto parts mogul Freddy (Craig T. Nelson), wants a separation.
After Freddy accuses Phyllis of squandering her creativity and being nothing more than a vapid housewife, Phyllis sets out to prove him wrong by becoming the troop leader of her daughter’s local chapter of Wilderness Girls, a Girl Scouts stand-in. Troop Beverly Hills, as they call themselves, are immediately ostracized from the more serious Wilderness Girls, led by the mean-spirited troop leader Velda Plendor (Betty Thomas). But once Phyllis lends her Beverly Hills prowess to the troop, they learn to celebrate who they are and come together as a team.
If you haven’t seen the campy, funny film, you are missing out. Here are five reasons why Troop Beverly Hills is worth revisiting.
1. The Costumes
Troop Beverly Hills showcases the outrageous and over-the-top fashions of the 80s with Phyllis’s ever-changing wardrobe. There are massive sleeves, feathered hats, capes, and polka dots a-plenty. While Phyllis is criticized for her devotion to shopping, she is able to turn it into a badge-worthy skill, bringing her keen fashion eye to dressing her girls and re-vamping her troop leader outfit. After all, nobody rocks a pith helmet and a fur coat like Shelley Long. As Phyllis likes to say, “I may be a beginner at some things, but I’ve got a black belt in shopping!”
2. The All-Star Cast
Troop 332 is filled with the neglected children of the rich and famous, but the child actors have since gone on to interesting careers. You can spot baby Carla Gugino as Chica, a latch-key kid left behind by her parents. There’s also Tori Spelling as member of the mean girl troop the Red Feathers. There are also a slew of celebrity cameos, featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cheech Marin, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Robin Leach.
Phyllis’s daughter Hannah is played by a young Jenny Lewis, who went on to become the frontwoman for Rilo Kiley and a successful solo artist. She even referenced her Beverly Hills roots in the music video for “She’s Not Me”, where she dons the Wilderness Girls uniform alongside Vanessa Bayer as Shelley Long.
3. The Unlikely Feminist Messaging
Phyllis’s husband leaves her because he wants a woman who actually does something besides shopping, dining, and living a gilded Beverly Hills life. But Phyllis insists that what he calls “nothing” was her designing a beautiful home, raising their daughter, and crafting the posh image of success that the family benefits from. Phyllis’s unpaid emotional labor is treated like a joke by Freddy, until we see what her work accomplishes: raising money for charity, parenting the ignored girls of her troop, and using her connections to sell a record amount of cookies.
What’s more, Phyllis never changes who she is to fit in with the other troop leaders. She celebrates what makes her and her girls different, and inspires confidence in her ragtag crew. Ultimately, she is a positive role model, teaching her girls to care for others, even those who have been cruel to them. While the Red Feathers may be ruthless, Troop BH has their heart in the right place.
4. The One-Liners
Troop Beverly Hills is still funny 30 years later, thanks to the terrific one-liners from Shelley Long. Whether she’s telling scary campfire stories about getting a perm or making age-inappropriate sex jokes during CPR training, Long is always ready with a quip, as are her co-stars. Granted not all of the humor holds up, like Lily’s parents, Dictator Bong Bong and Karina, who are meant to be a spoof of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos but come off as awkward Asian stereotypes. The 80s: not a great time for diverse representation. But age aside, the movie is filled with plenty of jokes that still land.
5. The Freddy!
No 80s movie would be complete without a dance sequence, and Troop Beverly Hills is no exception. Phyllis teaches her girls how to do “The Freddie”. Never heard of it? Probably because it’s … not very good. Still, it’s hilarious to watch. If anyone wants to bring back The Freddie, I’m into it.
What are your favorite parts of Troop Beverly Hills? And what other 80s classics do you still cherish?
(via Entertainment Weekly, image: Columbia Pictures)
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