“That’s the problem with insurance damage in never permanent ”
Robert Altman wasn’t always at the top if his game, but I think all his films are worth checking out at least once. While M*A*S*H, The Player, and Godsford Park are well thought of, it’s safe to say that O.C. & Stiggs will never be considered a master piece. It’s a film that I discovered as a teen and think that it might just be the most punk rock film ever made. Sure it’s a mess, but it has it’s moments and it has some the best scenes of managed chaos since the Marxx Brothers… all of that is not to say that it’s anywhere near the level of those films.
The plot is pretty simple; O.C. & Stiggs are a pair of Phoenix area high school Students trying to navigate the mid-80s landscape of Regan upwardly mobile America. At the start of the film they sneak into the backyard of the Shwab family, to make long distance international calls and tell their story to President Bongo of Gabon.
Essentially they have spent their summer being a thorn in the side of the Shawbs because, the husband is an insurance magnet, had canceled O.C.’s grandfathers retirement insurance. O.C.’s Gramps with out his insurance is headed for a nursing home and O.C. is about to be shipped off to live with an uncle in Arkansas.
In what was slated to be a teen sex comedy, Altman manages to skewer the neo-affluence, the oblivious parenting of the era, the right wing survivalist, the high school hi-jinks films and the stereotypes of homeless winos and Vietnam vets. The film also contains the Altman wandering camera, the overlapping dialog and ensemble cast he was known for. Paul Dooley, Jon Cryer and Jane Curtin all have big roles, but are far too often overshadowed by the smaller roles of; Ray Walston, Dennis Hopper, Martin Mull, a pre-Sex in the City Cynthia Nixon and one amazing scene with Bob Uker.
Like all good teen films of the time there is also an extended musical performance, only instead of getting what ever puffy haired New Wave one hit wonder, Altman brings in King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, a world music artist who after becoming a huge hit in his home land was being poised to be the next Bob Marley in the states by his record company. This of course never happened and King Sunny Ade never was able to make the step from the world music genre to the mainstream, which is really strange because watching his performance in the film he showcases everything that a cross over act needs. I have owned a couple of his records and none of them ever came close the magic and connection of his O.C. & Stiggs performance.
Fashion wise O.C. & Stiggs is a time capsule of tacky and misguided clothing choices all too often made by the rich and stupid, and it even plays a role in the film. Mr. Stiggs starts off with sunglasses with those side cover things that you would think are only legal while transversing the deserts of Africa; on the other hand this film is set in a desert. Of course there is also the suits they wear when purchasing their car, and then the whole business with the Afro-Dizzy-yacks… witch I won’t go into, other than to say Martin Mull almost steals the film with his intro of ‘Girls if you need clothes, and you don’t here….” Line right before he offers O.C. and Stiggs cups of brown rum with the line ‘ Double or Triple, there’s no Singles here”.
I have to fess up and say that this film holds a very nostalgic place in my life. It was something that my friends and I all discovered because we were fans of Jon Cryer and were on a mission to track down all of his films. Of course he has a small role in this film, that’s everything that someone like Ducky from Pretty in Pink, or Grant from Dudes, or even Morgan Stewart from Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home isn’t…. but the magic of a film that was seeing though all the bullshit in the teen flicks of the era meant something to me and to my circle of friends. We were smart enough to know that there was a lot of hollow, debt ridden, compromised lives out there pretending that everything was ok, and this film affirmed that.
O.C & Stiggs was featured on the Onion A.V. Club's My Year of Flops, you can read that HERE