Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Flying Turkey: Supergirl
“And it’s about here that the movie starts to break down, with the introduction of Faye Dunaway as a mysterious fortune-teller, and the even less fortunate introduction of Brenda Vaccaro as her sidekick. The relationship between the two women reminds me of Mommie Dearest in search of daughters.” —Roger Ebert, in his review of Supergirl
What, you thought we’d recommend Mommie Dearest for Mother’s Day? Please, give us more credit than that. We’re not sure anyone should ever watch that movie, even as a camp film.
For a Mommie Dearest-type campfest without child exploitation, on the other hand, we offer up this forgotten 1984 mega-production which also features Faye Dunaway devouring scenery. Supergirl aimed to revive the fading superhero genre by (gasp) casting a woman in the lead. The movie follows Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater), the cousin of Superman who, along with her folks (Mia Farrow and Simon Ward), survived the destruction of Krypton by hiding out in a pocket universe called Argo City. The colony, overseen by the wise man Zaltar (a boozy Peter O’Toole), is powered by an Omegahedron, a high-tech orb of pure energy.
When Kara accidentally loses the Omegahedron, she traces it all the way to Earth. There, a floundering witch named Selena (Dunaway) and her assistant Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) discover the Omegahedron, and conspire to use its powers to (what else) conquer the world. When Kara arrives, she takes on the dual identity of high schooler Linda Lee/Supergirl in hopes of finding the Omegahedron, defeating Selena, and saving her people. Oh, and of course she meets a hunky school groundskeeper (Hart Bochner), who becomes the object of both Kara and Selena’s affections
In the leading role, Slater gives a winning, plucky performance that hints at just how good Supergirl really could have been. Dunaway, by contrast, snarls and howls her way through the movie, playing to the furthest rows of Yankee Stadium. Vaccaro seems to have some fun as her floozy sidekick, and their relationship seems designed for bitchy laughs. Roger Ebert had it right: all this movie needed was Selena battling Supergirl with a wire hanger.
Actually, it needed a lot more than that. As a film, Supergirl is a mess, but not a boring one. Slater delivers a damn good performance in the lead considering what she had to work with, and as such, has some terrific moments. Dunaway seems to be playing Joan Crawford playing Selena, which could be why she comes off like a tweaking drag queen. Vaccaro fares better, only because she seems to know what movie she’s in.
Weird, campy, hideous, but featuring a terrific leading performance by Slater, we suggest Supergirl in lieu of Mommie Dearest this Mother’s Day. It has the same level of campy laughs, albeit without the child beatings.
Streams on HBO Max, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes & VUDU.
One Final Note: Supergirl is available in both its 105-minute theatrical version and in an extended 124-minute version. We suggest watching the latter (which appears to be streaming on Amazon), as it contains several scenes which clarify the plot and character relationships.