Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Retro Nerd Girl love.

Teen films throughout the 80's and even into the 90's was THE time when nerds finally got their revenge. They paved the way for the success of the nerd on film, and now the nerds who grew up on these Films & TV shows are making their very own (Judd Apatow, Josh Whedon etc.)

Nerds such as Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club, all the guys from Revenge Of The Nerds and Eugene from the Grease films immediately come to mind when thinking about nerd films of that era, but what about all the female nerds of the time? And what defines a nerd girl? For me she is sometimes the bookworm with the big glasses, but she can also be the smart girl who is often ignored or upstaged by someone else more conventional.

The female nerd in Film goes way back and can be traced to the likes of Bette Davis. In "Now, Voyager" Bette Davis plays a frump who goes from totally geek to totally chic. This seems to happen a lot during the journey of the nerd girl in film. The simple magic of disposing of eyeglasses, plucking of the eyebrows and a new outfit always completes the transformation. Hell, Sandra Bullock has built a career on it. Here's a look back at some of my favorite nerd girls of the time. Because in my book, they were always the ones who mattered most.

Winona Ryder of Lucas The unfortunate yet cute band geek, Winona has eyes for the hapless Corey Haim, who only has eyes for the popular Kerri Green.

Jennifer Tilly of No Small Affair I don't really know what Jon Cryer was smoking, but how could he not notice the cute arcade nerd Jennifer Tilly until the final scene of the movie? Damn you, raspy voiced Demi Moore. Damn you.

Felice Schachter of Zapped! Felice is all business in Zapped! as the school's nerdy reporter, but once she lets her guard down and Scott Baio lets his telekinetic power (to remove women's bras) down long enough they will realize they are a match made in nerd heaven.

Michelle Meyrink of Revenge Of The Nerds, Real Genius and Joy Of Sex Michelle was kinda the queen of the nerd in the 80's with 3 very different yet very potent nerd portrayals. She will win your heart in each film.

Martha Plimpton of The Goonies, Running On Empty and The River Rat One of the few legitimate actresses of the time to actually seem intelligent behind a pseudo nerd exterior, Martha Plimpton can nerd out with me anytime.

Lea Thompson of SpaceCamp Lea Thompson took on the unlikely role of Space Nerd in 1986's SpaceCamp and filled the space suit quite nicely. Even though she was ever the popular girl in like two hundred other 80's movies, she seemed legit. I guess it helped to have Kelly Preston on hand (in probably her only 80's film where she didn't get nude) to distract all the dudes.

Jami Gertz of Mischief Jami Gertz gets to fill the background of this 80's homage to 50's films and gets constantly upstaged by the ever nude Kelly Preston. That's okay, she'll be completely transformed by film's end and 2 years later she'll be a Star for some Lost Boys.

Cynthia Nixon of The Manhattan Project Cynthia the school journalist geek falls for the science geek, and soon the pair find themselves on the run from the army, and even creepier. John Lithgow. Oh, and her science geek love is running with some plutonium in tow. What the hell was she thinking?

Robyn Lively of Teen Witch Sometimes, all a nerd wants to do is be someone else, someone more popular. Robyn gets that and more in the lively (get it?) Teen Witch. You'll find some dancing, some romancing, some rappin' and even some Zelda Rubenstein. There will be a transformation or two, I promise.

Joan Cusack of Sixteen Candles Joan Cusack gets to spend most of Sixteen candles in scenes like this, and while it's kind of heartbreaking on some level, it's pretty hilarious.

Daphne Zuniga of The Sure Thing Daphne doesn't need any real distractions in her life right now. Clearly she's doing well, but she gets a major one with the arrival of John Cusack in her life. She'll go from buttoned up geek to streaker from a moving car in no time.

Annabeth Gish of Mystic Pizza, Hiding Out and Shag Annabeth rivals Michelle Meyrink and Martha Plimpton for most geek per square movie and she does it beautifully in each film. We fall for Annabeth because we see a part of ourselves in her.

Pamela Segall of Something Special (AKA: Willy/Milly) Pamela has the arduous task of going from geek girl to totally geek boy, and she pulls off the role with surprising aplomb. She's the spunkiest of nerd girls, and when she falls for Wheelchair-bound nerd Alfie, she'll win our hearts. And certainly his confusion.

Lori Loughlin of Secret Admirer I don't think it's humanly possible for Lori Loughlin to be a nerd of any kind, but there she is, totally smart, totally forgotten and ever trying to win the man of her dream's attention. The problem is the man of her dreams is kind of a dummy and he has that 80's virus better known as the ever-nude Kelly Preston providing him mucho distraction.

Heather Fairfield of No Secrets Heather might have two other chicks to contend with in No Secrets, both really hot and ready to break any rules to sleep with the dangerous older man, but perhaps her weapon is greatest... She's labeled "Brain". I love this movie.

Viveka Davis of Morgan Stewart's Coming Home Viveka Davis is the unusual nerd girl in movies. She's the nerd really into horror films. Jon Cryer instantly falls for her, as we all probably would too. Speaking of which...  

Horror Movie Nerd Girls need love too! 

Toy Newkirk of A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master Toy might be the only nerd girl of color in an 80's horror film, and she rocks the role. She may not get the man in the end or have a chance to ace the test, but she does get to suck face with Freddy.

Rachael Kelly of Scream For Help Rachael's Christie of Scream For Help is a nerd girl unlike any other. She's super smart, and quite the Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to get herself into the wackiest of the scrapes. And when she gets to bed nerd love Corey Parker, it's a moment that has to be seen to be believed.

Sherry Willis-Burch of Killer Party Even though Sherry Willis-Burch's career only consists of two movies (Final Exam being the other) she left an indelible nerd girl impression with her portrayal of Vivia in the awesomely wacky Killer Party. She may not be as hot as some of the other girls (She doesn't even wear a headband!) but she's my favorite of all.

Traci Lind of Fright Night Part II Traci Lind gets to play an unlikely nerd in the super fun sequel, Fright Night Part II. Witness her speed read Bram Stoker's Dracula (see above) and witness her lose her boyfriend to the lust of a hot lady vampire... She'll have to take off those glasses, grab some garlic and get out of the library for once in her life to win him back.

Janit Baldwin of Humongous The plucky Janit Baldwin may not get a lot of screen time in the little seen (for multiple reasons) Humongous, but she got my attention. Where thou are you, Janit?

Joy Jones of The Initiation Joy Jones' all too brief scenes in The Initiation really impressed me. There is no transformation. She does not get her man, and she has kind of a bad attitude. Still, Jones' Heidi is whip smart and knows something is very wrong with Daphne Zuniga... But will Peter listen in time? One thing for certain is that The Initiation would be even better with more Heidi.

Amy Steel of April Fool's Day and Friday The 13th Part 2 Ah, the final girl Amy Steel. Super smart and effortlessly the girl next door, Amy exudes the perfect combination of intelligence, spunk and cuteness. If you're not rooting for Amy by film's end, you should spend your days crocheting yourself a bag to put over your head. Shame.

Jamie Lee Curtis of Halloween Jamie will always be the put upon nerd Laurie strode in Halloween. She's always responsible, and far too good of a friend... But she accepts her fate. She may not get the man in the end, but at least she gets the respect of every horror fan.

Other notable nerd girls:

Amanda Bearse - Fraternity Vacation (Nerd by association - Falls for Stephen Geoffreys, uber nerd)
Rae Dawn Chong - Soul Man (Harvard Law Nerd)
Donna Wilkes - Angel (Nerd by day, working girl by night)
Maureen Teefy - Fame (Ingenue nerd)
Lucy Deakins - The Boy Who Could Fly (The cute nerd next door)
Virginia Madsen - Fire With Fire (The ever responsible one nerd)
Sarah Jessica Parker - Footloose, Girls Just Want To Have Fun (The dance nerd)
 Catherine Mary Stewart - Night Of The Comet (The video game nerd)
Meg Tilly - One Dark Night (The pretty yet always picked on nerd)

The church of Latter day nerd love:

Drew Barrymore - Never Been Kissed
Rachael Leigh Cook - She's All That
Tina Majorino - Napoleon Dynamite

TV Nerd love:

Robyn Givens & Krystyne Haje - Head Of The Class
Amy Linker & Sarah Jessica Parker - Square Pegs
Tracy Pollan - Family Ties
Tracy Gold - Growing Pains
Mindy Cohn - The Facts Of Life
Mellisa Gilbert - Little House On The Prairie
Megan Follows - Anne Of Green Gables
Heather Langenkamp - Just The Ten Of Us
  A special thanks goes out to JB with this article. XO


The Vicar of VHS said...

Wow, excellent article, and it really takes me back! I remember having a strange thing for Martha Plimpton in Goonies, and the rest ring my pre-adolescent bells as well. The Barbie Girls were just unapproachable, unattainable, and usually dumb and mean--it was the smart nerdy girls who did it for me...though that's probably because I fancied my chances better too.

Your list also reminds me of one of my favorite unfortunate fashion fads of the era--THE OWL GLASSES. Why were these styles of frames ever popular? You know they had a detrimental effect, because the Nerd Girls in these movies *always* had to take them off before the Romantic Hero could see their "inner beauty." They didn't do much for male wearers either--I had a big honkin' pair of owl glasses myself in the 80s and early 90s, and I was a desperate virgin until I traded them in for contacts.

Because of my "inner beauty," of course. ;)

Darius Whiteplume said...

See, this is why it is foolish to avoid the nerd girls. Look at Jami Gertz now, for Pete's sake!

If I ever have a son, he shall know better than I did.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Wow great post man! Wynona Ryder in Lucas was so cute, that movie is touching!

Wow, I havent seen Mischief..since 1986!! I need to revisit that one.

My favorite nerd girl was Tracy Lind on Fright Night II. Cute, nerdy and smart. What a potent mix! Plus not just any girl could speed read like that!

Great post Meep!

jm_kaye said...

Excellent post! I can't believe I haven't seen half these movies. Will have to remedy that immediately.

As embarassing as it is to admit this, I owned a pair of those humongous 80's glasses back in the day. They had one positive effect: making the nose look smaller.

Cinema Du Meep said...

Thanks guys!


Photo please!

Amanda By Night said...

This is a great list. With one exception, I love all of these girls (the exception being Lea Thompson whom I just never got). Of course Vivia is probably my favorite, but there's so many lovely nerds to choose from!

Cinema Du Meep said...

I'm honestly not a huge Lea Thompson fan. She was just in a lot of teen movies I happened to like back in the day... I think what I liked about her in SpaceCamp is how much she committed to the role. She fully embraced her inner space nerd. And that's a wonderful thing for an actor who usually plays the pretty popular girl.

Yum-Yum said...

All I have to say is awesome post, Mr. Du Meep.

Oh, and Vivia rules!

ZeroHope2survive said...

I'm surprised Lora/Yori from Tron wasn't on your list!

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