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Who’s That Girl

Who’s That Girl

By Patrick Samuel • August 15th, 2011
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Warner Home Video 

Release date: March 20th 2006
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 90 minutes

Year of production: 1987

Director: James Foley

Cast: Madonna, Griffin Dunne, John Miles, Haviland Morris

If you remember the 80’s then you might remember the summer of 1987 when “Who’s That Girl” by Madonna was everywhere. The song, written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, had an infectious quality to it and employed some of the Latin flavours that made “La Isla Bonita” such a massive hit earlier that same year.

Along with being a chart-topping single and a world tour for Madonna, Who’s That Girl was also the theme song to a film of the same name, and the title of its accompanying soundtrack.

Who's That Girl

Originally called “Slammer” and recalling the days of screwball comedies of the 40’s and 50’s with Judy Holliday and Cary Grant, Who’s That Girl kicks off with Nikki Finn (Madonna) being released from prison where she’d been serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. Tax attorney Loudon Trott (Griffin Dunne) is assigned by his boss to pick her up and take her to the bus station, but Nikki has other plans; she’s determined to clear her name.

While Loudon is tightly wound and stuck up, Nikki, with her platinum blond hair, helium voice, fishnet stockings and tutu, is as free spirited as they come. What then follows is the story of how these mis-matched individuals eventually find some common ground to stand on. For Loudon, that means first off all letting those inhibitions go as Nikki re-organises his schedule for day.

Who's That Girl

Madonna was keen to follow up the success of Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) with more roles but Shanghai Surprise (1986) failed to impress audiences and critics worldwide. Although her next planned film was Blind Date (1987) with Bruce Willis, she opted for Slammer instead based on its screenplay and comedy elements.

Director James Foley had already worked on Reckless (1984) and At Close Range (1986) but Who’s That Girl would be his first big studio film after Madonna championed for him to get the job with Warner. Madonna wanted a familiar face there, someone whom she could trust. Foley was a friend and had also been the best man at her wedding to Sean Penn in 1985.

Of the Who’s That Girl experience, he would later say:

Who's That Girl

“I was young, I was twenty-eight. So, being given the opportunity to work on a Warner Bros. film with a huge star was attractive to me for all the wrong reasons. Everyone has a bit of Hollywood lust in them. Warner Bros. approached me because they knew I knew Madonna and she had asked for me, and was convinced to do it. At Close Range was a dark film, and going towards comedy was totally the wrong direction. But I didn’t care.”

Who's That Girl

As for the film’s music, Madonna got in touch with her True Blue collaborators Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray and asked them to work on a few songs for her new film. Together they came up with four tracks,“Who’s That Girl”, “Causing A Commotion”, “Can’t Stop” and the ballad “The Look Of Love”. It was also the moment when the film’s title was changed.

“I had some very specific ideas in mind, music that would stand on its own as well as support and enhance what was happening on screen and the only way to make that a reality was to have a hand in writing the tunes myself. The songs aren’t necessarily about Nikki or written to be sung by someone like her, but there’s a spirit to this music that captures both what the film and the characters are about, I think.”

Who's That Girl

Who’s That Girl opens with an animated intro depicting Nikki as Betty Boop-like character walking the streets of New York while events leading up to her arrest are played out to “Causing A Commotion” which in itself is an attempt to re-create some of the energy associated with Madonna and Bray’s iconic “Into The Groove” that became Desperately Seeking Susan’s theme. In an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, Madonna spoke about writing the lyrics:

“I don’t like violence. I never condone hitting anyone, and I never thought that any violence should have taken place. But on the other hand, I understood Sean’s anger and believe me, I have wanted to hit him many times. I never would you know, because I realize that it would just make things worse… I felt like he was ‘Causing a Commotion’ to purposefully distract me. I wrote this song and vented my frustration in it.”

Who's That Girl

Can’t Stop” is arguably the weakest of the contributions by Madonna to the soundtrack in terms of its production. The song’s bubblegum pop qualities are more on par with “Jimmy Jimmy” from her True Blue album and is used sparingly during the film’s caper moments. “The Look Of Love” comes when Nikki undergoes her “transformation”, showing Loudon she scrubs up well. Instrumental pieces from these songs are used as leitmotifs throughout but the musical score by Bray remains unreleased.

The 2006 UK DVD release doesn’t have any special features, apart from the theatrical trailer. It left many fans wondering why the “Making Of”, deleted scenes or music videos were not included. It’s doubtful a Blu-ray release is high on Warner’s  or Madonna’s list of priorities but it would be great to see such bonus material assembled and the film in HD.

Overall, it’s pure fun, 80’s nostalgia and pop music entertainment with a great performance by Madonna as the carefree jailbird.

It tends to go overlooked in favour of Desperately Seeking Susan but it’s my number 1 choice for a Madonna movie every time. It’s such a great reminder of how much fun it was being kid growing up in the ’80s.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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