I saw "She's Out of Control" when I was a kid, every Saturday Night featured a comedy, and in the early 90's, they were all from the 80's. I can say I saw at least three films with each of Richard Pryor, John Candy, Dudley Moore, Chevy Chase, Dan Ayrkryod or Gene Wilder before I could see one of Pacino, De Niro or Nicholson. Those were the days, I never missed a Saturday comedy, and "She's Out of Control" was twice promising, the second value was that it starred Tony Danza and "Who's the Boss" was still airing. That was an offer I couldn't refuse.
And I enjoyed the film. To my defense, I was only ten. I saw the film when I was twice the same age and well, I enjoyed it in the sense that it reminded me of the good old days
and that I could spot Matthew Perry in his baby-faced pre-Friends years, and well, it was a time without the Internet, without any Netflix, where VHS stores still existed (how would I have gotten the film otherwise?) so the film could take two hours of my life. You see where I'm coming from?
Indeed, a few years later, as an IMDb member, I went to the film's board, one of the threads gave me a link to the then Siskel & Ebert's website and I could have a taste of their own opinions. The film is infamous for having made Ebert's Most Hated List and for having encouraged Siskel to quit his job if it wasn't for the providential "Say Anyhing", seen the same day. Not only did they hate the film but they hated the experience of watching the film, and hated the insult on people's intelligence that it represented. I never saw the film again
but curiosity won over me and I finally saw it to check how bad it was.
Well, I don't think it's bad as much as it's wrong. Wrong is the right word, and even when it grabs a few timid laughs, they're still addressed to rather creepy situation. Ebert and Siskel pointed out that the father's obsession with his daughter was driven to very pervert corners, especially when he first sees her steeping down the stairs with that short white dress and the "Venus" music, there's a level of eroticization of a teenager that ceases to be disturbing when you know the actress was 20, but in the context, she's 15, it doesn't get better.
The problem isn't that the father's obsession is creepy, but in the fact that the script actually proves him right in a twisted way. Once she becomes pretty (of course, all she had to do was get rid of braces and glasses, typical ugly duckling makeover Hollywood cliché), she collects boyfriends like heels from a repulsive buyer. I used to find the first montage of boyfriends lining up on the door funny, now it's not even funny, it's creepy, especially when it gets to the point of a father needing to make an appointment to see his girl. There might be at one small moment of truth within the chaos, when Katie admits it's a phase because she never got used to appeal to boys and when her father warns her about using her pretty face as a weapon.
There could be a powerful moment like when Elizabeth Taylor says in "Butterfield 8": "Face it Ma, I was the slut of all time". The ugly 'word' is never uttered but it doesn't fool us as Katie breaks every record on that level. But the film never attacks the core of the problem, it never even tries to handle her attitude as a problem, it makes it the Dad's problem. And all it takes is to try to win his daughter's trust, get along with the boyfriends (well-played actually). So the film involves a subplot with some therapist and writer played by Wallace Shawn. He gives all the proper advice for Doug but even by suspending my disbelief, the film surrendered to the idiotic formula. There's a moment where Katie asks her Dad about the "right time" and all Doug does is quoting a whole paragraph from the book.
That's symptomatic of a desperate screenplay that would rather treat its material in sitcom fashion than sacrifice feeble attempts of laughs in order to provide a real father-and-daughter moment. And even the quoting made no sense once you get to know Doug, he's creepy but he's not an imbecile, he would know his daughter enough not to give her a church sermon. I have an unlimited patience with movies with nostalgic value but I don't like these cringe-worthy moments. I pointed out similar flaws in another 80's flick "Like Father, Like Son" where the father started behaving like a kid when impersonating a teenager.
The moment that got on the critics' nerve used to be the one I remembered the most, Amy Dolenz running in a way it might have inspired "Baywatch" and Danza looking at the looks of men, as if they were indeed obsessed by her body. The music playing is the "Oh Yeah" from Ferris Bueller. This part is all wrong again. It is wrong for Danza to sexualize her daughter. It is wrong for the movie to show that he might be right to feel that way, and it is wrong that she'd think there's nothing wrong with attitude, yet it's all plain wrong.
So, how to put it? "She's Out of Control" reminds me of that "hang in there" cat in the poster, the film is the cat, the rope is nostalgia. But for nostalgia's sake, I'd rather remember Tony Danza as Tony Micelli than Doug Simpson, father of teenager Katie (Ami Dolenz in the movie), so this is one instance where I'd let the cat fall.