Bette Midler and Shelley Long team up for this delightful comedy about a pair of struggling actresses who band together to track down their womanising lover…and save the world.
Arthur Hiller’s 1987 film Outrageous Fortune features the bumbling but refreshingly energetic attempts of Bette Midler and Shelley Long to track down the womanising lover who double-crosses them. The two women play struggling actresses, both of whom succumb to the attractive mystery of school teacher Michael Sanders (Peter Coyote). Midler and Long meet each other at an audition for a method-acting course with the supposed genius of the art form Stanislav Korzenowski (Robert Prosky). The squabbles begin immediately as Long’s refined, studied and hard-working approach comes head-to-head with Midler’s laid-back, care-free attitude. Neither woman knows of the other’s love affair but it is revealed when Sanders fakes his own death and the pair band together to find their missing Prince Charming.
Many of my favourite Arthur Hiller films have an element of travel. There’s Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder as strangers on a train in Silver Streak, while the pair are tracked across New York in See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Jack Lemmon has a night to forget in the same city during 1970’s The Out of Towners. Similarly, Outrageous Fortune features a cross-country trek for our pair of love-struck protagonists, the many locales playing backdrop to one amusing sketch after the other. Not every joke hits the mark but Hiller has a unique knack of developing comedy from the relationship between two very different characters who discover a common goal. In See No Evil, Hear No Evil this was taken the extreme – one man is blind, the other is deaf; while Outrageous Fortune pits the clashing personalities of two determined wannabe actresses against each other to see what might happen.
“It is refreshing to see two women given both the platform and the freedom to excel in a genre overpopulated by male pairings.”
The answer is comedy gold; at least for an hour. Before Sanders’ background is revealed and the film turns into a sub-par James Bond adventure, Outrageous Fortune is a delightful stage for two terrific actresses to have some fun. Both Midler and Long are clearly having a great time with their roles, their creative freedom allowing them to play off each other. Midler was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe but Long is equally as impressive. There’s a wonderful scene when Long uses her acting ability to con a couple of drug dealers into revealing Sanders’ whereabouts, the intrepid twosome becoming Cagney and Lacey for a brief moment. Long also leads from the front when attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of an airline desk clerk while trying to gain information of Sanders’ flight. The pair are also equally funny when they dress up as hormone-riddled teenage boys to get access to a flea-bitten brothel where they believe their man might be hiding. Midler and Long are a perfect fit, their individual talents combining to create one of the best “buddy” combinations of the 1980s. It is also refreshing to see two women given both the platform and the freedom to excel in a genre overpopulated by male pairings.
The film certainly loses its way towards the end. It’s far more enjoyable when Midler and Long are attempting to track down their lover. Once this migrates into “save the world” territory, our happy-go-lucky twosome don’t quite have enough Indiana Jones about them to make it work effectively. But Outrageous Fortune has plenty to like, particularly in the performances of its two stars, to make it essential viewing for anyone seeking out the 1980s best buddy comedies.