On New Year's Eve 2010 before I settled in to watch recent comedies THE HANGOVER and BRüNO, I decided to watch a little something called JUST THE WAY YOU ARE (1984, directed by Edouard Molinaro), which tells the age-old story of a woman who has to travel across the globe just to find herself. Kinda.
Susan Berlanger (played by the spunky Kristy McNichol of WHITE DOG) is a professional flautist. Despite her slightly butch appearance, this gal is 100% straight and seemingly always on the prowl.
In fact Susan has to practically beat guys off a stick. You see Susan's engaged to wealthy and handsome Frank (pre-WINGS Tim Daly) and being stalked by a horny answering service operator named Jack (Lance Guest). Her best friend Lisa (Kaki Hunter) is a serious dancer and another horny dude named Sam (Robert Carradine) is after them both. After she Lisa compare notes on their disastrous relationships, we see that Susan is wearing a leg brace! What? She plays the flute so beautifully...how can she be disabled???
Turns out that Susan has been handicapped since a childhood bout with viral encephalitis, but she's so well-adjusted that she even jokes about wearing "Polio by Ralph Lauren" (insert sitcom "wha-wha"). After Jack and her have a almost blind lunch date, his subplot is quickly discarded and Susan hooks up with Sam (that's still Robert Carradine, if you're having trouble keeping track)–who isn't turned off by her bum leg. In fact I think he's turned on by her limp! Things seem to be going along swimmingly but suddenly Richie Rich, I mean Frank, walks in on them! Frank doesn't seem to be alarmed, and still wants to marry her because it's okay if she wants to sleep with other guys, because he does too! Yup, Frank's gay and their pending marriage would have been one of convenience so he could inherit his family's vast fortunes. Susan encourages him to be honest and maybe they'll accept him "just the way you are". Awwww...
So, after the broken engagement, Susan wants to see if total strangers would treat her differently if they didn't know she was handicapped, so she dumps Sam and accepts the offer to travel to Europe on a concert tour. So, while in France, she convinces a French doctor to put a cast on her bad leg, and then she heads off to the French Alps and a ski resort! When her room at the inn is double-booked, she quickly and eagerly makes friends with a slutty French woman named Nicole (Catherine Salviat) who instantly becomes her roommate! Nicole is having an affair with a married man, who never shows. Awww...
Soon Susan befriends skier Steve (Patrick Cassidy) and tries to jump his bones, but discovers he has to abstain from sex because it might interfere with his performance on the slopes. Enter Peter Nichols (MAKING LOVE's Michael Ontkean), a handsome and incredibly patient photographer there on assignment and his one-dimensional girlfriend Bobbie (Alexandra Paul). Before you know it, Susan and Peter fall in love, and so Peter dumps tantrum-prone Bobbie for Susan.
But can Susan tell him the truth about her damn leg? You'll just have to watch it to find out! This film is kinda odd. On one hand it's a cheesy 80s romantic comedy, on the other hand it's a "message movie" about how superficial people are.
McNichol makes snarky Susan likable in spite of man-eating ways. In fact if a lesser actress were cast in the lead role of a man-hungry, flippant and smooth operator such as Susan, the viewer might actually loathe her. But lovable Kristy just makes you wanna be on her side. The rest of the cast shows up and does their work, and some of the scenery is quite lovely.
The Billy Joel-less synthesized 80s soundtrack seems a bit too serious and heavy-handed in contrast to the airy romantics goings on, but it's always fun to hear Frida's awesome I Know There's Something Go On. Overall I'd give this Warner Archives gem a 7 outta 10 just because it's premise is so ridiculous, and yet it somehow works. As for Kristy, we'll always love her just the way she is!