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Garry Marshall was the most avant-garde filmmaker ever

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The late Garry Marshall largely defined the sitcom (his creations include The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Mork & MindyLaverne & Shirley, and, er, Joanie Loves Chachi). Then, as was the fashion at the time, he graduated from the small screen to the big one and he made a series of films with premises that can only be described as deeply creepy… yet he directed them with a sitcom touch.

Indeed, he directed them with more of a sitcom touch than his own sitcoms usually displayed. (The Odd Couple in particular is timeless.) A number of his films involved the sexual exploitation of women — seriously, wait until you see the films — yet he refused to make downers.

Indeed, while he usually included a tear-jerking scene or two, these films were meant to be feel-good hits and, against all odds, some of them indeed were.

I present highlights of the filmography of Garry Marshall, who effortlessly distorted genres in a way Todd Solondz can only imagine.

(NOTE: These are the actual plots of Marshall’s actual movies. Really.)

Overboard (1987). Working class Kurt Russell is financially exploited by rich Goldie Hawn, so he waits until she gets amnesia and convinces her that she was actually his wife. Yes, this is kidnapping and, yes, when they fall in “love” and start having sex it is pretty darned rape-y. But a good time is had by all, particularly the children! (Watch the trailer here [1].)

Pretty Woman (1990). Originally called 3,000, it was supposed to end [2] with Julia Roberts’ hooker being thrown out of a car, the money’s dumped on her, car drives away. Roll credits. Marshall had a slightly different take, with the result that Jennifer Jason Leigh (who auditioned for Roberts’ role) later said she thought it was a “recruitment” film for prostitution. Which makes this the most subversive film ever: move over, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers and your Nazi imagery [3]–Marshall’s king! (Watch the Roy Orbison-filled trailer here [4].)

Exit to Eden (1994). Set on a dominatrix-themed private island… bring in Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Aykroyd in bondage gear. The disconnect between sex and laughter has never been so jarring! (Watch the trailer here [5], but not if you’re eating.)

Dear God (1996). Con man Greg Kinnear is sentenced by a judge to get a real job. (Note: In the 1990s, our justice system was more whimsical in its punishments.) Stuck at the post office’s Dead Letter Office, he starts answering letters people write to God… and in the process makes the world a better place. Suggesting that according to Marshall, Greg Kinnear is actually god. Someone better up their sacrilege game, late Spanish/Mexican director Luis Buñuel! (Watch the trailer here [6] if you have ever desired to see Santa on a jet ski, which is a fairly Buñuel-esque image.)

The Other Sister (1999). Juliette Lewis pretends to be mentally disabled. She meets Giovanni Ribisi, who also pretends to be mentally disabled. Will their love be stopped by Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt, playing her parents of roughly average intelligence? Maybe! (Watch the trailer here [7] if you want to hear Lewis’ voice echo through your dreams for years to come.)

Raising Helen (2004). Want to meet a foxy Lutheran pastor (ably played by John Corbett)? Perhaps your sister should die in a car accident and unexpectedly force you to raise her children. It works great for Kate Hudson! Note: This film should not be confused with David Lynch daughter Jennifer Lynch’s Boxing Helena: it is much weirder. (Watch the trailer here [8] if you want to forget any final memories of how good Hudson was in Almost Famous.)

Georgia Rule (2007). Lindsay Lohan is a disaster of a human being. Also, she’s in this movie, where she must be taken away from the temptations of San Francisco by being sent as far away as possible, to Georgia. [CHECKS WIKIPEDIA AGAIN] Actually, to Idaho–it’s filmed entirely in California, which inspired one Idaho newspaper [9] to note “it looks as much like Idaho as does, say, Mexico”–where she meets Georgia, played by Jane Fonda, where Lohan learns to appreciate the values of a small Mormon community! Also, Garry Marshall wasn’t Jewish [10]! I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ANYMORE. (Watch the trailer here [11] just because.)


Garry Marshall, you shall be missed. (Also, I thought you gave a delightful performance in Soapdish.)