By Amy Loughlin
Country: United States
Studio: Imagine Entertainment & Columbia Pictures
Director: Ken Kwapis
Producers: Deborah Blum, Tony Ganz
Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Cinematographer: John Bailey
Editor: Carol Littleton
Composer: James Horner
Duration: 99 minutes
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Falk, Julian Sands
Did you know that Jeff Goldblum, the Unofficial Boyfriend of the Internet, starred in a 1988 adventure-romance film called Vibes?
Did you know that in it, he plays a bumbling, neurotic psychic named Nick Deezy?
Not only that, he starred opposite Cyndi Lauper – yes, THE 80s pop icon – as Sylvia Pickel, a crass beauty student from Queens who gets psychic intuitions from her feisty ghost friend?
The duo are tricked into a quest to find a mysterious city of gold – but they aren’t the only ones on the trail. On the run and on the scent, Nick and Sylvia become unlikely allies and even more unlikely lovers as they stumble through South America.
I know, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that a movie that wonderful could exist. On the surface, Vibes (1988, dir. Ken Kwapis) was an unassuming box office failure that was forgotten soon after its initial release – but despite its minimal impact on popular culture, this film is essential to the canon of cinema.
In this writer’s opinion, Vibes has proven itself to be the most 80’s movie that has ever been created.
You might be disturbed by this news, or you may argue that it couldn’t possibly top iconic cinematic moments such as Marty McFly driving the DeLorean down the main street of Hill Valley at exactly 88 miles an hour, or Indiana Jones grabbing his hat just before the looming cave wall slams shut. If I were there with you, I would smile wryly, and maybe even give you a condescending pat on the head before explaining that while you are sweet, the truth is you just don’t know any better. Yet.
If you aren’t already titillated by the high spectacle schlock I described earlier, let me sell you with a little critical discussion. To imply this movie has a plot is misleading – sure, the story follows a series of events which then have consequences that lead to other events. But the term ‘plot’ implies that the story is bound by some sort of internal logic or common sense. Let me make it clear: there is only one authority this movie bows to, and that is the god of 1980’s high concept film tropes.
The story hits particular beats, not because the narrative demands it, but because it is what an 80’s adventure romance would do.
A nonsensical dance scene? You better believe it’s in there.
A goofy German villain perfect for all your Cold War rhetoric needs? Absolutely it’s in there.
A mystical glowing pyramid with overwhelmingly vague “psychic power”, which is never explained or followed up on? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response, because it’s clearly in the movie, and you knew that already.
The script is overwhelming but infectious – every beat is stuffed with another quippy one-liner, as though the characters will die if they stop making jokes. Peter Falk is particularly guilty of this, and seems propelled by the need to constantly be speaking.
Vibes was the first acting role for the already established Cyndi Lauper (singer of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ and ‘Time After Time’). Her character’s big hair, bold makeup, and grating personality makes it clear why this was Lauper’s first foray into acting. Sylvia Pickel is Lauper, or at least the rough, lovable part of Lauper that refuses to conform to the standards set for women in entertainment. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lauper explained: “I didn’t want to do a typical airhead version of what Hollywood thinks a woman is – and I didn’t want to do an ultra-serious La Femme! film either.” Well, Cyndi – mission accomplished, because the last thing anyone would call Sylvia is serious.
Jeff Goldblum’s unconventional and charming mannerisms usually serve as the comic relief for whichever film he’s cast in – but in this whirlwind of a movie, he serves as a sea of calm. The audience can cling onto the familiarity of his eccentric personality for dear life as the tornado of kitsch swirls around them.
Vibes hardly qualifies as a ‘good’ film in the traditional sense – but it is joyous, and earnest and everything that people love about 80s movies. Sure, the big hits like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future are absolute classics – but real, pure nostalgia comes from a rough, eccentric film like Vibes.
You could say that those classic 80’s movies walked so that Vibes could stumble and fall over.
The sets are clearly painted models. At one point, Goldblum creates a special effect by obviously shaking a ‘mystical relic’ violently between his hands. Lauper disarms her enemy by connecting to his mother in the spirit world and singing him a lullaby from his German homeland. To put it bluntly, it’s a mess. No studio in their right mind would produce a movie like that today. But back in the 80’s they would.
Watching Vibes in 2019 is a breath of fresh air. It’s like a vacation from the big budget, overproduced blockbusters of today which are set to backgrounds of political uncertainty, like travelling back to a time when we could afford to just be absurd for a moment.
That isn’t to say that the 80s didn’t have its own share of grim socio-political turmoil under Thatcher and Reagan. But the joy of experiencing Vibes as a 90’s-born millennial is that, for an hour and a half, I was given absolute permission to feel safe and comfortable in its sheer ridiculousness. An experience that is becoming few and far between.
McKenna, K., 1987, ‘CYNDI LAUPER FEELS THE ‘VIBES’ IN HER FILM DEBUT’, Los Angeles Times. Available at: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-07-02-ca-1667-story.html [Accessed August 13, 2019].
Anon, ‘Vibes’, MIFF 2019. Available at: http://miff.com.au/program/film/vibes [Accessed August 13, 2019].