The surprise tragedy of Fresh Horses is Molly Ringwald could’ve been good in it. Even though she’s top-billed, she doesn’t get a scene without Andrew McCarthy until almost halfway through the movie—she’s the white trash object of his working-to-middle class sexual lust—but she’s not good in that scene. Actually, it’s her only scene without McCarthy in the movie, I think. Wow. Anyway. She has this scene where she shocks the three girls McCarthy and best friend Ben Stiller have brought to she and McCarthy’s love nest (a shack alongside the railroad) to party and, if Stiller has his way, orgy. It’s not a great monologue by any stretch but it does show agency, which Ringwald’s without the rest of the film even when it pretends she’s got some.
But that scene… it’s where Fresh Horses, for the first time since the first act, has some potential to go somewhere good. The film’s so far past the point of no return but for a moment, it seems like it might. Maybe because of the awesome rainy sequence at these stairs (the Serpentine Wall in Cincinnati), when it seems like McCarthy and Stiller are going to go for some wholesome bonding as they take McCarthy’s dad’s boat out on the river, which is actually the opening titles.
They don’t. They go to try to get laid, which ends up being the most passively offensive sequence in the film (as opposed to the actively offensive ones like when McCarthy accuses Ringwald of making up sexual assault or, you know, hits her… Fresh Horses is truly fucked up). McCarthy and Stiller on the prowl isn’t just why the sequence—they crash rich girl Molly Hagan’s house, where she’s having a pool party with Welker White and Rachel Jones—is so offensive, but because it turns out the three girls are just waiting for the guys to validate their existence with the gift of McCarthy and Stiller sticks. There’s an actual line of dialogue—from a female character—about how men don’t realize how lucky women feel to get laid.
Now, in a better world, I wouldn’t have given Fresh Horses enough time to get to that point in the film. Director Anspaugh can shoot a mean Serpentine Wall in the rain but it’s not like his direction is good. His instincts are terrible, especially with the actors—like, no one thought we should actually hear McCarthy break up with rich girl fiancée Chiara Peacock or maybe have the scene after McCarthy gets beat up for not pimping out Ringwald where they see each other. The subsequent scene to the sad fade out on beaten McCarthy is Ringwald asking surrogate mom Patti D'Arbanville if she’d ever been the object of working-to-middle class sexual lust and D’Arbanville–Fresh Horses doesn’t just reject Bechdel, it rejects the idea of it—D’Arbanville wistfully tells Ringwald she’d trade one McCarthy for all her experience, which doesn’t so much sound romantic as make all of D’Arbanville’s encounters sound like rape.
But writer Larry Kenton (who adapted his apparently just as fucked up play) doesn’t… have a concept of consent. The film’s a relic of toxic masculinity among the beta males, as Stiller (who’s got a serious girlfriend, Marita Geraghty, but spends most of the movie on the prowl) explains it to McCarthy—it’s hard to make male friends so you have to make sure not to lose the ones you’ve got, even if it means making sure they don’t get to be with the girls they want to be with. See, Stiller’s buds with college scuz bucket Doug Hutchison who gossips about Ringwald actually being sixteen and married, which leads to the first time McCarthy lays hands on Ringwald. Not the hitting scene. That one comes later, after he smuggles her into his house—the film doesn’t establish he lives with his parents until that point, in fact, given Peacock being so ostentatiously wealthy, it seems more like McCarthy’s similarly classed—and she makes too much noise.
Fresh Horses makes you wonder if the men who made it regretted it after they had daughters.
Actually, the first big tell of problems isn’t the strange opening credits where you can never follow the vapid rich folk conversations because no one could be bothered to really write them, it’s when McCarthy’s leaving his class (he’s an engineering student in college who also knows his rules of grammar because he’s going to correct high school dropout Ringwald on occasion, including when she’s telling him about being assaulted)… McCarthy pointlessly says, “Hi, Mr. Berg,” to this guy in the background. The producer. The producer put a cameo in the movie where the movie star lead has to identify him by name and show some deference. So I did learn one thing from Fresh Horses. Avoid movies where stars have to suck up to the producers onscreen.
Is there anything good about Fresh Horses? Is Viggo Mortensen good as Ringwald’s definitely abusive maybe husband? Umm. He’s not as bad as some people. You feel bad for D'Arbanville; her character runs a rural Tennessee party house where rough men play poker and pool and D’Arbanville serves them liquor and perv on her fifteen year-old daughter. Fresh Horses is basically a White guy’s shitty short story with a romance subplot grafted on. I know because it’s the kind of shitty short story I would’ve written because I grew up on crap like Fresh Horses.
Oh. What are Fresh Horses? They’re women. Once you tire out one horse, you get another. But they also get tired out by other riders so you don’t want those ones either.
Fresh Horses is terrible. You shouldn’t watch it. I shouldn’t have watched it. I feel bad I made my cat sit through it. I’m sorry, Fozzy. I’m very sorry.
Directed by David Anspaugh; screenplay by Larry Ketron, based on his play; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by David Foster and Patrick Williams; production designer, Paul Sylbert; costume designer, Colleen Atwood; produced by Richard Berg; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Andrew McCarthy (Matt), Molly Ringwald (Jewel), Ben Stiller (Tipton), Chiara Peacock (Alice), Marita Geraghty (Maureen), Doug Hutchison (Sproles), Molly Hagan (Ellen), Rachel Jones (Bobo), Welker White (Christy), Viggo Mortensen (Green), and Patti D’Arbanville (Jean).