Say Something Nice: SATISFACTION (1988)

Britta Phillips outshines the brightest stars in this unsatisfying rock’n roll romp.

When I first saw Satisfaction, it was rebranded Girls of Summer for its television debut in 1991. The NBC promos were unabashedly cashing in on Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman fame with egregious taglines like, “Before she was a pretty woman or slept with the enemy, Julia Roberts was one of the Girls of Summer.” Ironically, Roberts’ feature debut as boy-crazy bass player Daryle is one of the least memorable parts of the movie, in which a nearly all-girl rock band (Nickie played by Scott Coffey being the one lucky guy) hits the road in hopes of catching their big break at a summer gig on the coast. As a shock to absolutely no one, these rocker types don’t fit in with the preppie locals. Yet, somehow (movie magic), they manage to be a huge hit at the nightclub owned by washed-up songwriter Martin Falcon (Liam Neeson). Now, I know what you’re thinking – this movie sounds like a festival of cheese that one might refer to as a “guilty pleasure” if they believed in feeling guilty about such things, which I don’t, but I’m not gonna argue with you. I’m well aware this isn’t a “good” movie. But as a thirteen-year-old girl whose taste was, well, the taste of a thirteen-year-old girl, I loved every dumb minute of it.

The band calls themselves “The Mystery” – the mystery being how anyone thought it was a good idea for tone deaf Jennie Lee (Justine Bateman) to be their lead singer. Especially since it’s glaringly obvious that guitarist/background singer Billie (Britta Phillips) is a far more talented vocalist. At the time, Bateman was well-known for her role as Mallory Keaton on Family Ties – a series I still think is one of the best family-oriented sitcoms, second only to The Wonder Years. Given that her TV brother, Michael J. Fox, had made the jump to film with great success – aside from a similar rock’n roll flop (Light of Day) the year before, which even co-stars Gena Rowlands, Joan Jett (and Trent Reznor) couldn’t save – hints this movie was a vehicle for Bateman to attempt the same leap. Unfortunately, the choice to cast her as the lead singer is the main reason the movie doesn’t work. Sure, her cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones isn’t terrible, but c’mon, the girl just isn’t a singer. No biggie, except by the end of Satisfaction we’re supposed to believe that the talent scout only wants Jennie, because she’s the best in the band. Ahem. So, in this beach bum, summer fun universe we’re forced to believe that everyone is too dumb to see the talent hidden in the background. The one girl who can actually play her instrument and carry a tune. The one girl who carries the whole damn movie with her witty one-liners and refusal to conform.

Most people my age (and by people, I mean women) will remember Britta Phillips as the singing voice of Jem on Jem and the Holograms:

Switching gears just a bit in Satisfaction, Britta plays the drug addicted guitar player (every rock band has one, right?) and even up against the likes of Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts she steals the friggin’ show. Not being the star of this silly little movie didn’t seem to hurt Britta’s career, but it always annoyed me that she was stuck in the background when she so obviously deserved to be front and center. Then again, I guess she proved everyone wrong by standing out among this particular crowd. She does get all the best lines and her solo of “Mr. Big Stuff” made me, and I’m sure many others, fans of hers for life.

Today, Britta’s still singing and playing bass in Dean & Britta and Luna and recently released her first solo album entitled “Luck or Magic”.  She and her husband, Dean Wareham, composed the scores for Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale and Mistress America and some may also remember her as the woman Greta Gerwig confides in at the dinner party in Frances Ha. Of course, she had a cameo in the awful Jem and the Holograms feature and has been known to attend the fan conventions from time to time. I think it’s wonderful she’s still showing up to sing the theme song for rabid fans of a show that so many others would be quick to label as a “silly” cartoon. She obviously recognizes it meant something pretty special to a bunch of impressionable kids.

I realize that having first seen Satisfaction as an impressionable girl is the reason I’m still talking about it thirty years later. It’s one of my biggest nostalgia movies, but I do still genuinely enjoy it. Unfortunately, I’ve only heard rumors that there are others out there like me. Others who wanted to be part of an all-girl band of their own after seeing this movie. Others who sought out the soundtrack on vinyl. Others who didn’t realize at the time that this was their first exposure to a “girl gang” and how that would become something they dreamed of being part of, as well as, something they’d hope to see more of in the movies. I’ve tried and failed many times over the years to convince people to watch this movie. Sadly, even name-dropping Liam Neeson draws very few people in. I mean, when Julia Roberts is forgettable, what can you say? Hell, even Debbie Harry (yes, Blondie) shows up as an on-again-off-again lover of Neeson’s character. But the girl I remember, the one who still stands out, is Britta Phillips. Sadly, hers isn’t a name people associate with the world of movies. Satisfaction may not have made her a movie star, but at least she’s still singing. And in the world of music, Britta is no longer hidden in the background. It’s great to finally see her front and center where she belongs.