Starring John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jann Wenner, Marilu Henner, Laraine Newman, Anne De Salvo, Mathew Reed
Directed by James Bridges
I think it’s clichéd to open up with some variation of “Perfect was perfect!” but for what it was, Perfect was kinda perfect. Modern viewers are never going to understand what makes Perfect so exciting and entertaining; they’ll be lost in the sea of skin-tight, multicolored leotards and shaking asses. But where those modern viewers might call Perfect‘s dated and very ’80s vibe a bad thing, this was exactly what made it so enjoyable to me. It reminded me of my childhood when the aerobics craze was sweeping the nation, with hype so huge I thought aerobics had only just been invented. How proud I was at six years old to live in a time when we had discovered this new, fun way to tone our bodies.
Perfect tells the story of Adam Lawrence (John Travolta), a reporter for Rolling Stone who’s working on a huge story surrounding the investigation of a business man accused of shady dealings. While on an interview for this story, he happens to spot some 20-somethings heading for the gym in their wonderful ’80s aerobic wear. One article pitch later and Travolta is investigating the health club singles’ scene at The Sports Connection in LA, and ogling a furiously gyrating Jamie Lee Curtis.
So I can’t hold myself back any longer: the aerobics scenes are intense, sexy, hilarious, grotesque and gripping all at once. You simply can’t rip your eyes away; the intensity of the sexual energy between Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta demands your full attention. And even before Travolta suits up in his ’80s short shorts, when he’s just standing on the sidelines and watching Jaime Lee do her thing, the scenes are just as intoxicating. They do a great job to portray just how magnetic Curtis is, as Travolta — and the audience with him — zeroes in on her despite a full room of bouncing, thrusting bodies.
Speaking of these aerobics scenes: they are incredibly well-shot. Every bit of the frame is filled with moving bodies (or mirrored walls showing us alternate views of the same moving bodies), but yet the image is composed with such skill that it never becomes cluttered. Instead the fury of motion creates something like aerobic white noise, allowing us to focus completely on Jamie Lee Curtis. But even beyond those scenes, the rest of the film is also expertly photographed thanks to the work of illustrious cinematographer Gordon Willis. He also shot the entire Godfather series, Annie Hall and many others. The dude is a beast, and he brings a level of cinematic perfection to Perfect that I never expected it to have.
But I guess most people in the ’80s didn’t really care for this one. It was savaged by the critics, was nominated for Razzie awards, and it didn’t even make its budget back in box office returns. And I have no idea why! Perfect is definitely a little long in spots, but the acting is good and it always makes up for any slow-moving scene with yet another stunning aerobics blowout. Even the big emotional moment towards the end is scored by a freak-out version of the William Tell Overture and something like 100 people on two floors moving in aerobic synch. I expected to get bored of the aerobics, but by the end of the film I found myself copying the moves and wanting to re-watch the scenes. They’re just so intense, unforgettable and hilarious. See how this review keeps coming back to them, no matter what I start talking about? They’re just that good!
Anyone who’s done aerobics should know that there’s no way to have a good aerobic workout if you don’t have some killer workout music, and the soundtrack to Perfect is… wait for it… perfect! Jermaine Jackson’s (Closest Thing To) Perfect is one hell of a title track, fueling the furious hip thrusts and whiplash-inducing neck rolls with a driving beat and a killer hook. But don’t take it from me, watch the music video and treat yourself to an exclusive aerobic scene with Jermaine and Jamie Lee Curtis! The rest of the songs are great too, so if you’re a fan of pumped up ’80s pop you gotta track down a copy of this soundtrack.
Perfect also contains a ton of journalistic sub-plots and threads, so as the amateur, pseudo-journalist guy writing movie reviews, I really enjoyed these aspects of the film as well. Not as much as the neon spandex in the aerobic scenes, but almost as much. I also got a kick out of finding typos in John Travolta’s copy when Jaime Lee Curtis reads one of his pieces on his amazing, 1980s portable computer. Yeah, I know… I’m a nerd, but I’m OK with that. This movie was exciting on multiple levels.
So ignore whatever critical reviews you might have seen, or the 19% Rotten Tomatoes score, Perfect is a highly enjoyable slice of ’80s cinema. You’ll never see aerobics like this ever again in a movie, not because they aren’t enjoyable, but because they pulled it off so perfectly here. Just like you can’t capture lightning in a bottle, no one will ever be able to re-capture the energy and intensity in Perfect‘s furious aerobic workouts. Definitely check it out, ’80s fans.
And definitely make sure you come back tomorrow for Syreeta’s take on Perfect!