How to Beat the High Cost of Living

How to Beat the High Cost of Living. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer 1980.

Before watching the movie:

This is a movie that’s been repeatedly recommended to me for years, but I don’t remember very much of what I’ve been told. I remember one particular scene described to me, but I don’t remember if I was told that the main plot features the women plotting a bank heist.

I want to see more of Jane Curtin’s Saturday Night Live work. I pretty much only know her from Third Rock From the Sun. The rest of the headlining actors I don’t think I’ve heard of.

I’m picturing an inept heist similar to Bank Shot, which I read as a novel years ago and recently learned was made into a movie with George C. Scott, but it’s probably nothing like that. I’ve seen it compared to Nine to Five, which is something I can picture. Except for the heist part. Which seems to be the bulk of the story.

After watching the movie:

Jane, Louise, and Elaine are three friends with money problems. Jane is a divorced mother who can’t make ends meet with the child support she’s getting, and her boyfriend would rather her get an abortion than get married before he gets his promotion. Louise’s hobby antique store is a money pit and in order to write it off on his taxes, her husband is suing her for the money he gave her to run it. And Elaine comes home one day to find that her husband ran off with his secretary, hocked all her jewelry, and emptied all her bank accounts. With crushing inflation and dwindling resources, these three women would do anything for some cash. And there happens to be some blowing in a giant money ball at the community mall, if they can keep it together long enough to pull off the heist.

I wasn’t especially impressed by anyone’s acting in this, but then I’m not sure if Jane Curtin’s performance stood out because of her or because of my recognition of her. I found some criticism of Susan St. James’s character being annoying, but I think they were just reacting badly to what her character was supposed to be. All three of the women are supposed to be too timid to actually do anything they’re trying to do. That’s why it’s funny.

This movie is so engrossed in the late 70s/early 80s inflation crisis, even though the core problem is “not a lotta money”, I found it a little hard to relate to, not having lived through it. I may not have even known about the inflation crisis if not for a digression in my Pre-Calculus class. Additionally, it’s caught up in Women’s Liberation themes that are not nearly as heady as they were at the time. While still very modern, the characters are reacting to the ideas with the novelty they had in that period, and there’s still some ground to cover. I was particularly annoyed by the fact that Louise’s husband can sue her in order to balance his tax returns, running her into bankruptcy and foreclosure, and during her Lysistrata period, go to his veterinary nurse to attempt to fulfill his needs, and as soon as the IRS is off his back, they can kiss and make up like nothing happened. How many years later would the movie have to have been made for her to respond to “it’s over, the lawsuit’s off” with “great honey, here’s my countersuit”?

I’m not sure how surprised I should be how sexual this movie is. There are many, many sex jokes that seem to be more there because they can get away with it than anything. Some of them are related to the plot (a few times prostitution is suggested), but most of the time it seems to just be testing the waters. Also, for once the gratuitous breasts are in a PG movie, though if PG-13 had existed at the time, this definitely would have gotten that rating.

Watch this movie: For some very “late 70s” fun with liberated women.

Don’t watch this movie: as a great “heist” film.

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One thought on “How to Beat the High Cost of Living

  1. Valerie March 16, 2012 / 1:07 pm

    yeah, a lot of it you had to be there. Some of it i was irritated about at the time, more so now, but the great lines are still great lines.
    Thanks for getting to this one.

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