Move Over, Rocky Horror: The Girl Scouts Are Coming

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Shelley Long and her motley crew in Troop Beverly Hills
By Esther D. Kustanowitz/Special to LAist

First, there was Rocky Horror. And in recent years, moviegoers have recited favorite lines and lyrics from such campy musical romps as The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia, and the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And now, the looming 20th anniversary of an 80s cult classic begged for an exuberant celebration of fans publicly displaying an affection so epic it would be deemed a fan flick phenomenon.

Enter Troop Beverly Hills: The Experience, which is described by its organizer as a” sing-a-long, dance-a-long, quote-a-long, and if we're lucky, Shelley Long!”

While Shelley Long’s participation in this event remains unlikely, others connected with the film have committed to this event, including director Jeff Kanew, screenwriter Margaret Oberman, "Cookie Time" songwriter Hilary Shepard, and three-time Oscar-nominated costume designer Theodora Van Runkle. And there may be other surprise guests, notes the event’s organizer, Erika Brooks Adickman. (If her name sounds familiar, you may have caught the LAist interview with her as co-founder of MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com.)

The inspiration for “Troop Beverly Hills: The Experience,” not shockingly, came during a getaway cabin weekend. Snowed in, Adickman and her friends watched the Troop Beverly Hills DVD and realized that the movie was a major cultural touchstone for their generation. “Even though we had grown up thousands of miles apart we all still felt the same connection to this movie. This made me wonder, ‘Could we really be alone in this?’” Realizing this year was the 20th anniversary, Adickman launched into action. “I knew I had to do something to see this brought to life and to celebrate this film and give it the recognition it deserves.”

What is this film, and why does it resonate? A quick survey of this writer’s social media universe reveals a passion unmatched by any film but Dirty Dancing (and that might have had an unfair advantage in polls because of Patrick Swayze’s recent death). One friend sent me a series of emails and YouTube clips from the movie that together make up her own essay on the film’s relevance. Another said, “It's comfort food. The good guys win, lives are transformed, people become better humans, and love conquers all. Every single thing is predictable, but that's part of the charm.”

Adickman attributes the resonance of the film to its “girl power” message. “Very few movies made in the late 80s were geared towards girls with a strong girl power message without beating you over the head with it.” She notes that even though the film’s girls had rich parents, they were still relatable because of their ages and relationships with Girl Scouts, slumber parties and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. “Each in her own way was experiencing the universal rites of passage growing up- feeling like an outsider, being misunderstood, and dealing with bullies. What made this movie so great is the girls were able to succeed by learning to like themselves and be themselves. Fun girl movie + home video rentals = a childhood classic that gets burned into your brain.”


Come on, everybody, it's Cookie Time!

Also burned into Adickman’s brain is a tendency to love what she terms “interactive pop culture experiences: Pop Up Video, Mystery Science Theater 3000, singing along in a big crowd at a concert. I wanted to take what it would feel like to watch this movie as an adult at a sleepover and translate it to a unique collective experience.”

But she knew - perhaps learning a lesson from a certain troop of Beverly Hills Girl Scouts- that she couldn’t do it alone. She gathered a team of loyal fans - “10 incredibly creative, talented, and resourceful friends who have helped me from day one” - to study the film.

”You become so familiar with the material that it becomes difficult to discern if a joke is funny because it's now an inside joke to your team. The greatest thing about this film is even after the umpteenth time watching this movie I still catch little things I never noticed, so many little thoughtful touches that come from great filmmaking that I certainly missed when watching this movie 20 years ago.”

While the celebration of a film’s anniversary was certainly the impetus for organizing the event, Adickman cited character Phyllis Nefler in saying that a screening alone would miss the point: "The girls need a chance to get their neighbors involved. You know? It enhances community spirit." Community spirit is something that Adickman says is perfectly in line with the mission of the event’s charity beneficiary, WriteGirl, a nonprofit organization for high school girls centered on the craft of creative writing and empowerment through self-expression. All proceeds from the event will go to support WriteGirl’s work.

“I wanted to connect with an all-girl organization,” Adickman says. “I assumed that a lot of the women coming to this event would be in the industry and would appreciate a connection with an all-girl organization that focuses on writing skills and building self-esteem.”

On Monday, Adickman will see this latest dream of hers come to fruition at Cinespace, where the crowds are invited to “Be an honorary Wilderness Girl for one night only (for now)! Earn patches, boo Velda Plendor, dance "The Freddie", and of course sing Kumbaya.” There will also be cookies sold at the door by DelishYourDish.com for those who want to get in the Wilderness Girl spirit.

And what future rewards might Adickman reap from her passionate support of this 20-year-old film? “Obviously, if I ever get ‘Troop Beverly Hills’ as a category on Jeopardy I'm pretty much set.”

Troop Beverly Hills: The Experience
Monday, October 5, 2009 at 8pm
Cinespace (6356 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028).
Doors open an hour before showtime. Tickets: Online.

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer, editor and social media consultant based in Los Angeles. She has never seen “Troop Beverly Hills.” You can read more of her work at My Urban Kvetch