If at some point in the last forty years you have seen Jeff Goldblum in something and thought, well, that’s an attractive man, which of course you have, then let me assure you that in this movie you will witness at least one moment that will surpass even the greatest of those.
As long as you don’t have a problem with near-mullets, anyway.
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The Fly came out in 1986, not long after last week’s stinker, and it seems like that should be impossible. They aren’t just worlds apart in terms of quality or production value; it’s like they’re starring two different guys.
Here, Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, a scientist of some description. The movie opens with him at a party talking to Geena Davis, who plays Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife, a reporter for Particle magazine whose floofy hair rivals Goldblum’s in height, width, and the opposite of timelessness. Together they make such a perfect time capsule of late ’80s non-cheesecake Hollywood, it’s amazing.
(By the way, the names in The Fly are almost the best part. In addition to Brundle and Quaife is Ronnie’s ex-boyfriend, Stathis Borans, who I sincerely hope was the inspiration for the name of George R. R. Martin’s Stannis Baratheon or there is no justice in the world.)
Ronnie is looking for her next big story, and Seth has just the thing for her. He’s invented a matched set of teleportation pods and he’s almost ready for animal trials. Ronnie agrees to document his process as he goes so she can have the exclusive. Of course, that means they bone! A lot. A lot a lot a lot, then she leaves him alone one night, and Seth gets pissed in both the American and British senses of the word, and crams his naked self into one of the teleportation pods.
With a fly.
It takes a while for the movie to finally get to the point. First, Seth gets super athletic, limber, and insatiable: naked Goldblum alert, by the way. He parades around in a pair of tiny briefs, inexplicably performs a gymnastics routine, and prowls a bunch of bars shirtless to find a lady for the night, after Ronnie turns down his increasingly creepy demands on her. By the time we hit an hour in, Seth is finally sprouting nasty insect hairs, followed quickly by secretions, boils, disposable fingernails, body parts falling off, and compound eyes.
I mentioned this is a sci-fi horror movie by David Cronenberg, right? Because despite the Peak Goldblum, this thing is repulsive to the nth degree. So many regurgitations, so little gymnastics!
Amazingly, things go even farther downhill after that. (Major warnings for this movie for animal death, body horror, and disgusting practical effects.) But, my god, if you can stomach it, this really is the greatest of Goldblum’s early performances. Maybe even of all his performances. He plays charming, vulnerable, creepy, brilliant, controlling, manic, terrified, sexy, and unutterably disgusting with equal aplomb. His Seth Brundle is so fascinated by his own transformation that I couldn’t help but be the same, even as I was trying not to look directly at any of it. Plus, the chemistry between Goldblum and Geena Davis is enough to blow your hair out as big as theirs. (Not surprising: they were dating in real life at the time, a relationship that lasted through a third movie together.) Though the movie is largely carried by Goldblum, and is rightly considered his breakout, don’t take your eyes off Geena Davis, either. It’s one of her best roles, especially when you consider that the movie functions as a not at all veiled cautionary tale about abusive relationships.
Taken altogether, it’s little wonder that The Fly is so highly regarded as it is. When it was originally released, there were even widespread and persistent rumors that Goldblum and Cronenberg would see Academy Award nominations: unheard of for genre movies even now. (Of course, they didn’t, because duh, but the makeup team did win that year for this movie.) But whatever else its legacy, never forget: this is the movie that gave us all the great gift of Jeff Goldblum sticking the dismount and showing his bare butt.