A much-hyped movie that unexpectedly crashed and burned at the box office, James Bridges’ Perfect emerges on streaming circa 2021 as an unfairly maligned movie. Re-teaming Bridges with star John Travolta, after their hot Urban Cowboy collaboration, promised much. Throw in Jamie Lee Curtis, hot from Halloween and Trading Places, and what could go wrong? Particularly as Travolta gets to dance as part of the fitness-instruction theme, a hot topic for 1985.
The problem is, Travolta’s character isn’t a dancer, he’s a journalist, and for once, Perfect is a movie that seems determined to get the key issues of journalistic ethics out there. Adam Lawrence (Travolta ) is introduced working on a tricky interview for Rolling Stone with a John DeLorean-type figure; the disgraced businessman grants him an interview, and Lawrence refuses to turn over the tapes to the feds. A journalist does not have to reveal their sources, but Lawrence faces jail-time for his actions.
This is all very interesting, and well caught; the Rolling Stone offices are meticulously rebuilt for various scenes, and Travolta’s boss is played by a real Rolling Stone editor. But Perfect is better known for the other storyline, in which Lawrence infiltrates an LA fitness club looking for an expose on the rampant sexual promiscuity he imagines. Jessie (Jamie Lee Curtis) shares her story and her bed with Lawrence, but she’s got a natural suspicion of journalists after a bad experience, and their relationship is turbulent to say the least.
Perfect is a thoughtful exploration of journalistic ethics; critics focused on the propulsive dance scenes, of which there were few. Although both movies were based on magazine articles, Bridges’ film is not intended to make Travolta cool in a Saturday Night Fever Way. Instead, it’s Curtis who really resonates as a wronged woman who is keen to protect herself from a predatory press; she’s terrific in this film, and Travolta isn’t bad either. Perfect accidentally baited and switched an audience who probably just wanted to see Curtis and Travolta dance to some of the hideous music featured here, but as a time-capsule of LA circa 1985 (Carly Simon cameos, Boy George mania!), it’s a enjoyable look back at weightier preoccupations, albeit in a famously airheaded era.