Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 20, 2006)
Can a song make you want to see a movie? Definitely – that’s the lesson I learned when Thank God It’s Friday hit in 1978. Donna Summer’s tune “Last Dance” blasted from Top 40 radio before film made it to the screens, and it prompted my 11-year-old self to want to check out the flick.
For reasons lost to the mists of time, I never did so. In fact, I’m pretty sure my screening of this DVD stands as my initial viewing of Friday. Better late than never, I suppose.
It’s Friday night in LA, and everyone flocks to a hot disco called the Zoo. Slick ladies man Tony Di Marco (Jeff Goldblum) runs the place and bets with DJ Bobby Speed (Ray Vitte) whether he can pick up specific women. Tony’s target for the night? Sue (Andrea Howard), a normally conservative housewife out for her fifth anniversary with husband Dave (Mark Lonow). He doesn’t want to be there, and his refusal to have fun leaves her open to Tony’s charms.
Two separate pairs of friends come to the Zoo to hook up with the opposite sex. Carl (Paul Jabara) drags Ken (John Friedrich) to hook up with the ladies, while Maddy (Robin Mencken) convinces Jennifer (Debra Winger) that they’ll meet some great guys.
In addition, we watch as two underage girls try to get into the club. Jeannie (Terri Nunn) thinks that her pal Frannie (Valerie Landsburg) can win the dance contest, but first they need to find a way to enter the building. Gus (Chuck Sacci) meets Shirley (Hilary Beane) for a blind date. Aspiring chanteuse Nicole (Donna Summer) just wants to sing and show what she can do.
All that, and a performance by the Commodores too! Let’s get the negative out of the way first. Friday exists as nothing more than cheap disco-era exploitation. It plays as a low rent Saturday Night Fever but lacks any of that flick’s depth or heart. These are resolutely one-dimension characters.
Virtually every element of Friday is utterly predictable. We know what couples will end up together and how the story will play. Will Nicole get her big break? Will nice kids Jennifer and Ken meet their loves? Will Sue and Dave reconcile? Will Frannie win the big contest? Will Gus and Shirley overcome their obstacles? Will the Commodores make it to the show on time? If you don’t already know the answers to those questions, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Speaking of which, why do so many of the characters sound like they’re from Brooklyn? The women mostly pass for Californians, but almost all of the men come across as outcasts from Saturday Night Fever. This makes no sense and becomes an active distraction.
Despite all of these negatives – as well as the non-existent plot – I must say Friday offers some kitschy charm. Maybe I had some fun with it because the 11-year-old side of me reflects back fondly on that era, or maybe I’m just in a good mood today. Whatever the case may be, I think Friday provides breezy entertainment.
Clearly the movie never takes itself very seriously. It fully knows that it exists as a quick, fluffy experience and doesn’t attempt to be anything more than that. At least it largely avoids crudeness or exploitation. Some cheap gags come with the flick – primarily a running bit in which Tony’s precious car gets more and more damaged – but the film actually shows some cleverness at times. There’s a wink at the audience when Nicole croons poorly along with “Love to Love You Baby”, Summer’s first hit. It’s a surreal moment that makes the piece more entertaining.
It’s definitely fun to see actors like Goldblum and Winger strut their stuff at this early point. Neither had made a mark by that point, so we see them in their formative stages. Winger doesn’t stand out, but Goldblum offers probably the film’s best performance as the slick, oily Tony. I particularly like the withering stare he gives to an uncooperative employee who doesn’t want to wear a gorilla suit.
In no way, shape or form can I actively recommend Thank God It’s Friday. A relic of the disco era, it doesn’t present a film one could view as creative or memorable. That said, it does entertain, especially for those of us old enough to remember the period it depicts.