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Rich Girl
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by Jack Sommersby

"The Ethereal Jill Schoelen Shines"
3 stars

Chalked up a paltry $561,000 at the box office, which is a shame because I can't imagine a high-school or college girl not getting something positive out of it.

The gorgeous black-haired actress Jill Schoelen impressed me to no end as the rebellious teenage daughter in the fine domestic thriller The Stepfather, and one would think if Hollywood executives had any sense in their heads they would have been fighting over her to headline their A-list stuff, but, as is all too usually the case, they chose to overlook a phenomenal talent in place of inferior actresses just because they exuded more charisma and were more compatible for mindless popcorn-munching audiences not wishing for a commanding screen presence exuding such a quality as complexity. Afterward, Schoelen was equally fetching as the heroines in the acceptable comedy-horror movies Cutting Class and Popcorn, and in Rich Girl she’s been handed pretty much of a stereotype of a role and succeeds in bringing a good deal of variety and verity to it -- she lends so much in the way of gravitas to the proceedings that she makes the movie play way better than it has any right to. She stars as Courtney Wells, the pampered, silver-spoon-raised daughter of a multi-millionaire businessman who, at the mere age of twenty-one, is already feeling world-weary: complaining that “everything is boring,” she breaks off her engagement to her recent college-graduated boyfriend who’s cheating on her and angling for a position in her father’s organization; and she announces to her father (the usual overacting Paul Gleason), who’s shacking up with a young blonde bombshell just seven months after her mother died in a car accident, that she doesn’t want anyone doing anything for her. So she sets out on her own to support herself, which becomes quite the challenge being that her trust fund has now been frozen and her employment options are limited being that she’s never held a job in her life; she manages to get hired as a waitress at the most popular music club in Los Angeles, gets her own no-frills apartment, and relinquishes her red Ferrari for a nondescript VW. It takes a while for Courtney to get used to eking out a living off unreliable tips, but being independent for the first time in her life invigorates her -- she refuses to pack it all in and go back to her domineering father, and Schoelen lucidly conveys this without ever italicizing it the way a less-resourceful actress would. It’s at the club where the house-band singer Rick (Don Michael Paul) becomes positively smitten by her, but Courtney initially resists his advances because he’s currently attached to a member of his band who’s a cocaine-sniffing alcoholic who’s been making his life hell as of late. They do eventually get together, however, and Courtney finds this gorgeous hunk of a man irresistible in his making himself emotionally available to her and being not the least bit ashamed that he came from an impoverished upbringing in a seedy hotel just a few blocks over. (When Courtney follows him one night, she sees him give some of his night’s pay to a homeless man in an alley, later learning that he’s Rick’s substance-abusing father.) Rick is hoping to garner some notice in an upcoming showcase at the club that could finally propel his band to the big-time, and when his now-former girlfriend jumps ship, Rick convinces Courtney, who has a lovely voice, to take her place.

Granted, Rich Girl doesn’t get off to the most convincing of starts. The first scene shows a conceited Courtney speeding from her family’s Beverly Hills mansion in her ultra-expensive sports car with the vanity plate RCH GRL, and when she’s pulled over by a motorcycle cop and she snootily brushes the officer off and even backs into his motorcycle and drives off as if nothing has happened, her subsequent desire to sever herself from her family’s lucrative resources doesn’t quite jibe. (Couldn’t Courtney have been arrested and given a probation sentence of working a blue-collar job to lend the story some credibility?) Also, the utilization of her conniving ex-fiancee just to supply the proceedings with a convenient villain later on down the line can be foreseen from several zip codes away. (Couldn’t the debuting screenwriter, Robert Elliot, see that his two lead characters had enough substance to validate our interest without this trumped-up poppycock?) But there are some welcome surprises along the way, especially the multi-faceted portrait of the club owner Rocco (Ron Karabatsos) who starts out an ornery blowhard but emerges as sympathetic when revealing a soft spot for his female employees even though he’s constantly criticizing them -- it’s the ’ol rough-exterior-giving-way-to-soft-interior thing, and the game Karabatsos, previously cast as heavies, runs with it and walks away with his every scene. On the other hand, the movie can be manipulatively schematic, like in having Rick suffer his father’s death so it can neatly correlate with Courtney’s mother’s death, and some last-minute stuff involving planted drugs in Rick’s motorcycle that results in police involvement is a particularly hoary plot device. Yet as a whole Rich Girl succeeds on an undemanding level. The dialogue is refreshingly par for the course as far as these things go, and except for some superfluous sequences the movie keeps itself well-aligned through its ninety-six minutes so you’re never impatient for the “good stuff” to come along. Director Joe Bender, whose far-from-illustrious resume consists of exploitive fodder like Gas Pump Girls, isn’t exactly bursting with invention, but he gets in and out of scenes with competence, and he has the good sense to give Schoeler and Paul the aesthetic room to prove their worth. This is Paul’s first lead acting assignment (he scripted the underappreciated Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man of the same year), and he can not only passably act but can cut a tune even more passably; a handsome, well-muscled man like himself could easily be ignored as being in the bland Miles O’Keefe vein, but Paul’s performance improves as it goes along, and it’s to his credit that his Rick manages to come off as a creditable character that escapes cliché. (At first Paul seems uncomfortable in front of the camera, but he gradually becomes more confident as he goes along.) But this is Schoelen’s show, and she more than delivers. She has that rare gift of emotional transparency, and even when she’s reacting rather than speaking you can always get an acute reading on Courtney’s various conflictions; there’s never a moment when she’s remote and studied. An ethereally-beautiful down-to-earth screen treasure like Schoelen doesn’t come along every day, and it’s to Rich Girl’s immense benefit that she almost singlehandedly makes it recommendable.

Still not avaialble on DVD.

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originally posted: 05/20/15 23:07:14
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  03-May-1991 (R)



Directed by
  Joel Bender

Written by
  Robert Elliot

  Jill Schoelen
  Don Michael Paul
  Sean Kanan
  Ron Karabatsos
  Paul Gleason

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