As is the case for Stand by Me (1986) I really enjoyed The Goonies (1985) when it came out and have watched it more times than I care to admit. I was nearly a teenager at the time, just a few years younger than the lead characters (Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and Data). Like many people I feel like Goonies was part of my childhood. Like many girls I also developed a crush on some of the actors. But now, decades later, I’m able to take a more critical look at this beloved movie.
Context: The Goonies is a PG-rated adventure comedy that runs nearly two hours. The screenplay, written by Chris Columbus, is based on a story by Steven Spielberg. It was directed by Richard Donner and tells the story of seven teenagers in Oregon who go looking for a pirate treasure after four teenage boys, all misfits, find a treasure map in an attic. The four misfits are played by Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen and Ke Huy Quan. The three that join them are Astin’s older brother (played by Josh Brolin), the girl he fancies (played by Kerri Green) and her best friend (played by Martha Plimpton). The Goonies made over US$62 million at the American box office (keep in mind that this figure is in unadjusted dollars).
The Goonies scores well for females’ presence and voice and has a few things to offer female viewers: a few significant female characters; two tough, assertive females (namely Plimpton’s character, named Stef, and Anne Ramsey’s character, named Mama Fratelli); as well as exchanges between females. Stef in particular is a refreshing character and one that girls can easily identify with. Nowadays she would likely be considered gender non-conforming for her short hair, somewhat masculine clothes and tomboy-ish nature. She wears pants, a scarf and hoodie over her T-shirt, the kind of modest outfit filmmakers rarely give teenage girls. She is also clever and repeatedly puts an obnoxious boy in his place. Indeed, she silences Corey Feldman and calls him stupid. Both of these inclusions are rare in Hollywood movies. It is much, much more common for males to silence females and for females to be called stupid. And yet, there’s never any question about Stef’s sex. She’s a girl. She knows it, and so does everyone else. No one hints that she may be a boy trapped in a girl’s body. She just doesn’t conform to regressive stereotypes, as many girls didn’t in the '80s and many girls don’t now.
There are drawbacks to this movie. It should be noted that these film commentaries aren’t full movie reviews. Typically I focus on just one aspect of films here, for example language, VAW or sexualization of women and girls. The aspect of The Goonies I want to shine a spotlight on today is the language used in reference to women and girls, which is one of the dozens of things I keep track of in feature films. Part of the reason for this is that language is very revealing about filmmakers. It tells us a lot about how well or poorly they think of women. Language in The Goonies is clean. It is also sexualized, demeaning and insulting of women and girls. This does not mean that it is sexualized, demeaning and insulting throughout, but rather that there is at least one example of sexualized, demeaning and insulting language at some point. Let’s examine the evidence. Corey Feldman tells his buddies they should be “[…] sniffin’ some ladies.” He says to Josh Brolin, who is kissing Keri Green, “Slip her the tongue!” He sticks his tongue through a hole in a painting of a woman and says to Sean Astin, “Come here and make me feel like a woman.” He also says to Brolin about his upcoming date with Green and his mom having to drive because he doesn’t have a driver’s licence, “[…] then you gotta make it with her and your mom.” He tells Jeff Cohen he has naked pictures of his mom taking a bath and will sell them to him, “real cheap.” He says to Plimpton as he holds a small mirror up to her face, “You wanna see somethin’ really scary, look at that.” He also says to her, “Your looks are kind of pretty—when your face doesn’t screw it up.” Moreover, Green calls Anne Ramsey, a much older woman, a “gross old witch.”
Are these inclusions sufficient to ruin the movie? Not at all. Do they merit attention? Absolutely. There is a generalized lack of regard for women and girls in our societies and for the last five years I have been exploring the role movies play in this.
I look forward to sharing my findings about mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries and what they have to offer female viewers in my upcoming film guide for women, which contains 500 feature film reviews.
Copyright © 2020 Alline Cormier