I Saw A Film!
Honestly you only need to know Rodney Dangerfield is in this and you’ll have a rough idea of the sort of amusement you’re on tap for. Personally I’m not crazy about the old school comics. I generally had wearied of the set-up to punchline style jokes by the time I was twelve and had settled into a pure Monty Python absurdity farce style by the time I was in high school. I never loved the Three Stooges (I swear even as a child I only worried about the idea of these grown men being as hopeless as they clowned, it still feels weird to me that people delight in the kind of schadenfreude necessary to enjoy their extreme lack of potential). But there’s something about Rodney. His buggy eyes, his ability to roll them, his strange and contagious rollicking motion, the way he managed, already nearing the the age where most star’s careers end, to suddenly hit it big. We couldn’t get enough of irreverent Rodney. He was always the best thing, alongside Murray, in Caddyshack, and in Back To School, his wealth and good natured gentility carried the film through all the unlikely contrivances. Which is why by the time Ladybugs arrived and the story was basically about cross-dressing to appease the needs of an asshole boss intent on pressing the superiority of a young girl’s soccer team, only Rodney (or Robin Williams) could have made the old trope funny. Some Like It Hot, had Monroe to follow around, but Ladybugs creates a scenario that honestly can no longer be maintained as a concern. It isn’t the fact that Rodney has his fiance’s son wear a dress and a wig to get on the team, the problem is no one wonders why this ringer is there. Nor is the lad the least bit convincing as a young lady, but does he need to be in 1992?
Years ago Douglas Hofstadter wrote a piece to drive home the discomfort imposed by certain language conventions that seem to enforce a particular hierarchy of prominence. For sake of argument he pretended the term manhole cover were instead “white hole” cover. And proceeded to run the gamut of replacing a mild sexism with a more agitating racism. The result was a very uncomfortable read, and I imagine that these sorts of boy dresses as girl for hilarity films were already on the rocks by the 90s. So by the time we see Rodney posing in a ball-gown as a female relative of the boy in drag, we’re not really prepared to guffaw. It seems less than humorous than it does extensively unnecessary.
Is there any value in Ladybugs? There is. Rodney is terrific, even if difficult to believe as a dedicated corporate ladder-climber and clean-cut fiance (where’s the pot pipe?), but overall the message of the film is more about teaching the win-obsessed boss a lesson about gamesmanship and valuing his daughter. The young lady isn’t a great player and, unlike any parent in the real world, the boss demands his daughter be sidelined from play for the win. I have argued at length that sports is great for kids, but only if the parents are mature enough to understand that both winning and losing are necessary to growth and that the whole point is that people who want to play the game, especially at young ages, should be encouraged to play. There is no greater meaning in the value of children’s soccer than maturely proceeding to congratulate the winner, and despite loss, emphasizing those jobs well done, and finally bringing along the least skillful of the players and broadening the scope of their abilities together. Ok I’ll get off my soapbox. Everyone should have fun! OK NOW I’ll get off my soapbox.
This silly film is running free on Prime and will remind you how much we miss Rodney. Eventually the joke should be a comparison of the worries between the generations, when something like Laugh-In was challenging to our collective conscious and James Bond was expected to hide his bedroom good fortune from the boss, a man in a dress might bring down the house, but even old Milton Berle had worn out the trope by the time television was an affordable commodity, why were we still selling this in 1992?