Sleepover Cinema: The Empowering 80s Lady Movie You Haven't Seen

Shirley is a smart, funny woman dealing with loneliness and heartbreak who is not a 26-year-old size 2 with blown out hair and a million dollar apartment.
Publish date:
May 21, 2012
movies, 80s, 80s movies, breakup movies, british movies, pauline collins, shirley valentine

I challenge you to watch this movie without snapping in a Z-formation.

Like many a film buff who lived through the Blockbuster era, I have a weird catalogue in my brain of VHS covers from my local video store as a kid. As a latch key kid with two working parents, “Videos 2 U” was my brother and my second home.

Oh, the movie covers! Shelley Long’s face popping out of a newspaper for “Hello Again,” an evil green toilet demon for “Ghoulies,” and another random one that always stuck out was one called “Shirley Valentine,” with a cartoon drawing of a woman leaning jauntily against a statue. (Years later, I would recreate the pose on vacation.)

Fast forward to about 15 years later, I was home in Ohio visiting my parents for the weekend. “Shirley Valentine” was just starting on one of the movie channels on a Saturday morning. I knew I was in for something good when the title credits had a creepy, campy song about Shirley Valentine (remember when all movies had a title song that basically explained the plot?). The intro also included an animated sequence of the lead actress, Pauline Collins of "Upstairs Downstairs" fame, in a montage of put-upon housewifery. (Can we please bring back animated titles? Remember all the crazy cartoon intros to classics like “Ruthless People” and “Mannequin?” Different, better times.)

Friends, the movie only got better from there. I'd venture to say that “Shirley Valentine” is one of the best British movies of the 1980’s.

Based on the hit 1986 stage play, we meet and immediately come to love Shirley Bradshaw, nee Valentine, a depressed, middle aged, Liverpudlian housewife who addrsses to the camera directly throughout the entire movie. This is one of the many period-pleasures of the film. Another is a favorite game of mine (and yours, if you're a "Downton Abbey" type), Spot the British Character Actor.

Shirley is in a bit of a rut. Her husband (Theoden from “Lord of the Rings” and the Captain from “Titanic”) kind of sucks and is very particular about what he has for his tea. Her children are grown and no longer need her. All she wants to do is drink wine by the sea and go on holiday to Greece. Her family is scandalized! Abroad? GREECE? In Liverpool suburbia, this means she wants to have a Lemon-esque “gentleman’s intermission” or as she screams to her daughter, a “Hump-a-Granny-fortnight.” She's finally inspired to follow her dreams of traveling abroad and drinking on the beach after a run-in with an old friend, a high-living hooker player by Joanna Lumley of "Ab Fab."

In the grand tradition of Life Changing Vacation Movies (see also: "The Matchmaker," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "Eat Pray Love," and the upcoming "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), the movie is all about freeing the spirit by partaking of local beaches, local wines, and local mustachioed lotharios. It is spectacular,

The movie has a bit of everything; amazing dialogue, a simply charming lead character whom you want to hug and root for. Shirley is a smart, funny woman dealing with loneliness and heartbreak who is not a 26-year-old size 2 with blown out hair and a million dollar apartment.

There's silly music, saucy dialogue, and of course, Allison Steadman of (“Pride and Prejudice” and “Gavin and Stacey”) as her sidekick and travel buddy.

What’s so appealing about this movie is that it explores what happens to the human spirit and the individual once swallowed up by marriage and family. Shirley is depressed because she’s not the assertive bad ass she used to be and she needs to go to Greece to get her kefi back.

I think we all relate to the feeling that we aren’t fulfilled in the life we wake up to and most of us don’t have the courage to go out and explore the world. I love watching a plucky, endearing house wife have an adventure and find herself. It gives us all a bit of hope that we can change our lives and find happiness if we are brave enough to take some risks.

I highly recommend you lean jauntily against a statue and Netflix “Shirley Valentine” for your next girls’ night or solo, bad-day sherry chugging marathon. Bonus points for renting it from a video store, if such things still exist.

Trailer below... OPA!