When I reviewed She's the Man a little over a year ago, I ended my review with this:
I don't think this movie would fare very well today. It's not very woke...... That said, this movie has to be much better than Ladybugs, that movie where Jonathan Brandis dresses as a girl and plays on the all girls soccer team that Rodney Dangerfield coaches. I've never seen it (don't think I'm missing anything), but it seems to send a very sexist message saying girls need the help of a strong boy to win sports! Again, I've never seen it, so maybe it's an empowering movie, who knows, but somehow I highly doubt it. At least She's the Man is above that...but I don't know how much higher the bar goes!
Okay, so I saw Ladybugs and it is NOT an empowering movie. SHOCKING, I know. It's a terrible movie. I definitely wasn't missing anything. While it is pretty sexist, the boy dressing up as a girl isn't even the most problematic part. No, that was just more stupid than anything else. But before I dive into my review, let me preface this by saying that I usually watch movies I review twice: first I just watch them straight through, then the second time I turn on the subtitles, I take notes, I write down quotes, sequences of events, anything notable. When I watched Ladybugs the first time, it was free on Amazon Prime, but when I went back a few days later ready to take notes, you had to pay to watch it and I was like, Nope! I'm not paying for this dreck! I'd be willing to watch it again for free, but I will NOT be paying to watch it again! So just keep that in mind as I go through this review. I may not remember everything that happens or have the exact quotes or remember how events transpire, but really, does anyone really care? Really? No? Good, okay, so let's get started.
So while I've been aware of this movie for a long time, I never saw it until recently. I guess it was a movie I never really wanted to see, even as a kid and that would have been the more desired time for me to see it. I have to wonder if I would have liked it as a kid and I don't think I would have because the movie is mostly focused on Rodney Dangerfield's character, Chester (terrible, terrible name...don't name your kid "Chester"). Maybe if the movie was more focused on the girls' soccer team or Matthew, the Jonathan Brandis character, I would have liked it more.
Probably one of the reasons why I was never inclined to watch this movie because I was never a Jonathan Brandis fangirl. And considering the tragic fate that happened to him, I'm glad I wasn't. I can admit he was cute and I can see why all the pre-teen girls from the '90s loved him, but I just never watched anything he was in. The only thing I may have seen is The Never Ending Story II, but I just may be confusing that one with the first movie and I haven't seen that one since I was a literal child (that's a movie I always intended to watch and review, but then I got distracted by other movies I'd rather watch and review), but I never saw Sidekicks or this one (until now, at least). I was mostly familiar with him from SeaQuest DSV, a show I never watched because I was watching the competition, The New Adventures of Superman, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. All I know about SeaQuest was that there was a talking dolphin and Jonathan Brandis was in it. So I just assumed he did all his movies during his time on the show, but imagine my surprise when I found out SeaQuest premiered in 1993 and this movie came out in '92, so was he already popular when he did SeaQuest and that's how he got cast? Because I honestly don't remember. I have a feeling it was SeaQuest that made him popular because he's not really in Ladybugs that much...he has nowhere near as much screen time as Dangerfield and I feel like if the movie producers knew they could get more pre-teen girls in the seats, they'd be focusing more on the Brandis character.
I have to wonder who is this movie for. If they're trying to get the Brandis fangirls, they're going to be bored through most of it and probably not going to enjoy looking at Rodney Dangerfield and his bug eyes. (So did he get cast in this movie because it's called LadyBUGS and they just immediately thought of him?) Also, the actual girls on the soccer team, aside from a couple of them, get no screen time at all. This movie is 80% Dangerfield, 15% Brandis, and 5% soccer girls.
The basic premise of this movie is that Rodney Dangerfield is trying to get a promotion at his job (he was 70 when he made this movie, so how old is his character supposed to be and why is he still working?) so when he finds out that his boss's daughter's soccer team, the Ladybugs, needs a coach for the season, he volunteers, saying he knows a lot about soccer because he used to play, but of course he doesn't and he's never played. He's told if he can get the team to the championship, he will be promoted. So that's how he gets roped into being the coach. Before he goes in to talk to his boss about a possible promotion, there's an extremely uncomfortable and awkward scene where he's "flirting" with the secretary, who is this librarian-type woman in her 60s and he greets her with "Hey, sexy" and tells her can't believe she never got married and how he bets "there's still heat in her furnace" or something gross like that and that she's just his "type". Yeah. I know, right? Oh, boy. Something tells me if Rodney Dangerfield were still alive today, he would be cancelled! There's a lot of very uncomfortable scenes like this (some even worse!), so stay tuned!
Most of the time, when we meet a kids sports team in a movie, while not every player may get equal screen time, we usually know their first (and sometimes last!) name(s) and they at least get one line and have some kind of character trait. The Mighty Ducks is a good example of this. Yes, it did have two sequels, but all thirteen players in the first movie had first and last names and all were given lines. This does not happen in Ladybugs. There are five girls who have lines and are given names. I looked up to see how many people are on a soccer team and it's usually 11: ten people in the field and one goalie. Now I did not count to see how many girls were on the team, but when they're all huddled together, you see girls who don't get any lines or you have no idea what their names are. Why don't we meet the girls we do get to know?
Then there's Nancy who was on the team last year (so was Kimberly, I believe). She's the only one who seems to know what she's doing. Julie claims this is because she's black and all the greatest sports stars - in baseball, basketball, boxing, and football - are black. Chester scoffs at this and ask her what about hockey. She makes a face like, Okay, I'll give you that one. And you think the joke would end there, but then he goes on to include badminton, fox hunting, and fencing. Yeah, that just got really awkward really fast. There's also another awkward racial joke when Chester is in the elevator standing between Julie and Bess, his fiancée (Ilene Graff aka the mom from Mr. Belvedere). He's holding a scrapbook with details about their wedding and an older woman who gets on the elevator mistakes him for getting married to Julie and tells them how brave they are. I did have to laugh when Julie muses what their children would look like.
Carmelita Chu is the butterfly girl. She's a little space cadet who loves butterflies and gets easily distracted by them when she sees them. This problem will get solved later when Matthew puts a bunch of butterfly stickers on a soccer ball and she just chases the ball down the field. I did laugh when she makes a goal and Julie was cheering her on and yelling, "Chu! Chu! Chu! Chu!" and it sounded like she was sneezing.
Wikipedia tells me there's a girl named Tina Velez (I assume she was on the soccer team), but I have no recollection of this person at all.
Kimberly has to be the dumbest girl on earth because she's had two recent run-ins with Matthew and he's literally only wearing a wig (that's pretty much the same color as his own hair), so you'd think she would recognize him. Even though she is super rich (her house has a racketball court, for God's sake!), she goes to the same public school as Matthew. In one scene, Matthew and his friend are walking behind her at school and his friend is telling him he should ask her out and tell her that he likes all her "parts". I am shocked that she didn't hear them talking about her because they are within earshot of her when they're saying all this. They go outside and his friend throws a football which lands near her and she sees Matthew and tells him, "Nice catch." Then, when Chester brings Matthew to one of the soccer practices, he's sitting in the stands and Kimberly does one of her infamous kicks and the ball lands near him and she runs up to grab it from him. So she's seen him just as himself twice now. Later he will reveal his true self to her and she is SHOCKED! Girl, why are you so stupid? It's a good thing you're rich and pretty, damn!
The fact that they put no effort in him being being a girl at all makes me laugh. At least Amanda Bynes in She's the Man put some effort into it. Yeah, she had that weird voice she did and it did change a few times, but I will give her a lot more credit. Brandis does not even attempt a girl's voice. He doesn't have a super deep voice, but it is noticeably male. He does have high-pitched girly voice during a scene where Kimberly has come to visit "Martha" (Matthew's female alter ego) at "her" house. (For some reason, Kimberly thinks of "Martha" as her best friend even though we've seen no evidence of them being that close). I have to wonder if that scene was filmed first and they tried the girly voice out and they decided not to do it anymore because it didn't work. Because it seems weird he would talk normally when he's a girl, but then later on in the movie, have that high-pitched tone to his voice. I don't know. This movie is so stupid. So during that scene, his mom comes home and, of course, she has no idea about the charade, so while Kimberly is in the living room and his mom is in the kitchen (he's closed the door to the rooms), he has to switch back and forth between Martha and Matthew and put on a wig when he's Martha. You know, it's like the restaurant scene in Mrs. Doubtfire (which, oddly, came out a year later....do you think this was the inspiration for that scene? Nah!) The way he slides down the stairs to his basement room is one of the best things about this movie. Seriously.
After his first practice as Martha (and none of the other girls have any clue. They're just as dumb as Kimberly), Chester tells Matthew he needs to learn to be more feminine, that he can't be so aggressive and talk about how he needs to take a leak. So we never actually see him try to get in touch with his feminine side; the only thing they really do is shop for a dress. This entire scene is so flipping' stupid and nonsensical and will later turn into a dark, disturbing moment. So they go to a boutique and Chester tells the saleswoman he needs a dress and when she asks him what size, he turns to Matthew and asks him what size he is. The woman is confused, but Chester explains it away as the dress being for his twin sister and they're the same size. Then he wants Matthew to try on the dress. But why? Why does Matthew need to even wear a dress? He's only Martha when he's on the soccer field, so "she" only needs to wear the uniform. Yes, yes, I know Kimberly comes to visit "Martha" at "her" house so Matthew puts on the dress then. But, still. So when Chester and Matthew are in the dressing room, oh boy, things get misconstrued and we get a joke about sexual abuse! Oh, yay! Oh, dear. Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear. This old lady and her granddaughter are waiting outside the dressing rooms (I guess there's only one dressing room?) and they overhear an interesting conversation between a man and what they think is a young girl. Chester and Matthew are facing each other (so the old lady only sees their feet) and Chester is putting the wig on Matthew. Matthew is complaining that it's "too tight" and "it hurts" and Chester's telling him to hold still and "not to tell his mother about this" because she'll kill him. The old lady is just besides herself. Now, I think if a little girl was actually being raped in a dressing room, there would be a lot more screaming and crying and the police would be called (hopefully!), yeah...that's pretty horrible. Matthew just sounds like an irritated teen, NOT like somebody who is having something horrendous done to them. Chester continues to be a creep to young girls when he comes out of the dressing room, sees the little girl with the older woman and proceeds to caress her on the cheek and say, "Oh, what a cute little thing. What's your name?" This causes the old woman to faint in horror. Dude, know your boundaries! We'll also get a weird scene later on where Chester is talking to a bar tender about how how he dressed up his girlfriend's son in a dress and wanted him to "play with him." Um, maybe, clarify what you're talking about or maybe just not talk about this at all? Of course the man is enraged and kicks him out of the bar.
So far we've had racist jokes, sexual harassment jokes, sexual abuse jokes, what else are we missing? Oh, yes, homophobic jokes! So, in a scene that really does not need to be in the movie at ALL, Chester and Bess are looking at a house and outside they see a man riding a bike with a little kid in the back, in one of those booster bike seats. Bess comments how cute that is and Chester makes a "joke" that the kid is going to turn out gay because he's just staring at his dad's butt. Yeah, not funny. Not even clever. It feels like Dangerfield thought of that on the fly and they thought it would be funny material for the movie?
Matthew has other close calls to being found out that he's not actually -gasp!- a girl! He and the other girls are invited to Kimberly's house. He calls Chester to pick him up because the girls have decided to go skinny dipping. WHY skinny dipping? Why not just swimming. I'm pretty sure if he was in a swimsuit, the girls would notice something was amiss! So Chester, dressed in a dress and hat with a veil over it, comes to pick up "Martha". You'd have to be really stupid to not recognize Rodney Dangerfield in drag. Just saying. His boss has an attractive wife who is wearing a short skirt that day and of course Chester, dressed as a woman, ogles her when she bends over to pick something up. I'm surprised (and disappointed, frankly) that Matthew didn't notice this and report this to his mother. His mom deserves better than this creep. Still trying to figure out why she is with him (apart from it being convenient to the plot).
In the end, Chester doesn't learn his lesson about cheating. We see him on a bus with boys dressed in baseball uniforms. When they get to their destination, the coach of the opposing team tells him he heard a rumor that he dressed up a boy as a girl to play on the soccer team, but Chester vehemently denies this. Cue to the boys stepping off the bus, all dressed in wigs, posing as girls.
You know what would have made this movie better? Or at least more passable? Get rid of Rodney Dangerfield and have it be Jackee who needs the promotion. Maybe Matthew is the son of her friend or she sees him and recruits him. Maybe you get more dynamic between the girls on the team and you get rid of all the stupid and offensive jokes that don't move the story anywhere.