Valley of the Dolls ★★★★½

So often, trash knows that it's trash. Valley of the Dolls doesn't. And that's why I love it. Unironically. It is unconscious camp, both dull & glorious.

I really need to write about this film, Patty's career before and after its release, Patty's slightly evolved relationship to it over the decades, & my relationship to it. Seeing this with an audience was such fun. It also solidified some of the nuances of my relationship with it. Moments are hilarious in scenes that aren't. Scenes are hilarious with moments that aren't. The audience found most of the film funny. Which makes sense. A lot of it *is* funny. And, hey, that's its reputation. But I found myself constantly wavering between laughter and earnest starry-eyed worship.

Take the inherently ridiculous scene with Neely and Tony singing a duet in the sanitarium. Here's the scoop; the sanitarium has a weekly dance. Neely knows Tony also resides there but she hasn't seen him. She starts to sing "Come Live with Me", Tony's signature song. Now a vegetable with some vague degenerative disease, Tony momentarily rises to awareness as soon as he hears the song. They sing together, and Tony immediately goes back to being a vegetable after the song ends. The scenario is absurd and tone-deaf. There's some hilarious bits, like the saxophone playing in the background or the wide shot where we see Tony's wheelchair ever so slowly inching in from the bottom of the frame. But, I don't know; the scene moves me. In some outrageous and convoluted way, the frailty and loss within that encounter is conveyed with a core truth that sincere trash has the ability to get at. And when sincere trash can achieve that, when the intention somehow remains intact at the center without losing the "I just want my dolls!" casing, it's a unique feeling. One I'll try and expand on.

I'm all Neely Neely Neely, but this time I was able to appreciate how magnificent Sharon Tate is as Jennifer. Her abilities as an actress were limited (I also note she never had a chance to grow or truly carve out her strengths) but she was born to play Jennifer. It's a part that gets so shortchanged in the adaptation, yet she brings Jennifer's beautiful soft-spoken tragedy to life. Of course the real life context of her fate adds to this, but, critically, that soft-spoken tragedy is also something Tate brings to the role entirely on her own. Jennifer's inner beauty shines through in every scene & it's heartbreaking.

I'm not sure how many at the screening were viewing Valley of the Dolls ironically or with real love (a mix I'm sure) but my love for it runs deep - even the first 30 min when boring-as-fuck Anne Welles is our only focus. It was also nice having distance from my obsession with the book which I'd read right before seeing the film for the first time. The adaptation presented itself as mere scraps from the book. I liked the film, but it was Patty who drove me wild with glee. This time its questionable storytelling and pacing stand on their own. Instead of being bothered by how undeveloped the friendships and dynamics are between the women or being annoyed that they gave Anne an upbeat ending (though props for not giving her a happy ending *with* Lyon), these observations now exist within the content, and not as a comparative dig.

Hopefully these are thoughts I will expand on at a later date because I want to continue engaging with this film and parse out its many pieces.