It’s difficult to say why some things are adopted by the LGBT+ community. There’s nothing inherently queer about Barbra Streisand, Xanadu or, erm… The Babadook and yet they’ve all attained icon status. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, is one such phenomenon.
Sure, it’s a hugely quotable movie. Who among us hasn’t asked for a “business woman special” or claimed to have invented the humble PostIt note? Have you and a friend ever screamed: “I’m the Mary” at one another? And as if you haven’t performed an interpretive dance to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ (brilliantly, licensing this song cost one-twentieth of the film’s entire budget).
But there’s more to Romy and Michele’s enduring queer appeal than snippets of dialogue and a supporting role from Alan Cumming. Exhibit A: There’s a new musical based on the film opening in Seattle this summer. Exhibit B: gay musician Bright Light Bright Light hosts screening parties in New York.
In case you’re one of the few who still hasn’t seen it, the film opens with a pair of sweet, if clueless, best friends (played by Lisa Kudrow and Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino) getting ready for their high school reunion. The only problem is, they’re kind of losers who haven’t achieved anything of note since graduation. So, in a bid to impress their former classmates, Romy and Michele concoct an elaborate lie: the aforementioned invention of stationery.
In keeping with so many cult classics, Romy and Michele was a box-office bomb. Writer Robin Schiff even claims it was: “One of the lowest-tested movies in the history of Disney.” But it went on to find its audience on VHS and DVD.
The two main characters started life as bit-parts in Schiff’s play Ladies’ Room. The cameo was Lisa Kudrow’s first professional acting role. Schiff saw the potential in the duo and developed them for a TV pilot called Just Temporary, which never aired. While the movie script toiled in development hell for five years, Kudrow was cast in Friends. Her rising celebrity, and devotion to Schiff, powered the movie into production.
I believe the film’s queer appeal lies in the unlikely triumph of the lead characters. When they try to fake it as Post-It-inventing businesswomen (spoiler alert), they fail: Janeane Garofalo, in a scene-stealing role, inadvertently outs the pair as frauds.
In the end, Romy and Michele realise that their high school tormentors are small-town nothings and they themselves had the right idea all along; theirs is a victory for fun, living out loud and individuality.
Their final seal of approval is even delivered by the gayest of sources, the magazine Vogue.
If that’s not highly relatable to LGBT+ people, I don’t know what is. Perhaps Romy sums it up best when she says: “I don’t care if you like us, ’cos we don’t like you. You’re a bad person with an ugly heart, and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think!