Can't Stop the Bad Memory: Remember When Caitlyn Starred with The Village People?

Thursday June 17, 2021
Originally published on May 7, 2021

Caitlyn Jenner
Caitlyn Jenner  (Source:Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

After winning Olympic Gold in the men's decathlon event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, Caitlyn Jenner became an overnight star and attempted to capitalize on her fame with performances of a different kind — a brief acting career in the movie "Can't Stop the Music."

That 1980 film is famous — or infamous — for a number of reasons. It also marked an attempt to capitalize on the success of The Village People, the six-member musical group that broke out of the LGBTQ crowd with disco hits like "San Francisco," "Fire Island" and "Y.M.C.A." The band went on to become a mainstream talent before falling out of sight after the disco boom bust.

The film, directed by actress Nancy Walker (best-known as Ida Morgenstern on Valerie Harper's 1970s hit series "Rhoda"), offered a pseudo-biographical account of the group's rise to fame. When producer Allan Carr announced the project, he said it would be "'Singin' in the Rain' for the disco crowd" and that "Jenner is going to be the Robert Redford of the 80s." Adding, "I mean this movie is launching whole new careers and we need new stars today."

Caitlyn Jenner sporting a crop top and short shorts in "Can't Stop the Music."  

The film, which also featured Steve Guttenberg and Valerie Perrine, as well as the Village People (Alex Briley as Alex the G.I., David Hodo as David the Construction Worker, Glenn Hughes as Glenn the Leatherman, Randy Jones as Randy the Cowboy, Felipe Rose as Felipe the Indian, Ray Simpson as Ray the Policeman), did little for any of their careers. The reviews were awful and it performed poorly at the box office. It also has the distinction of being the first winner of the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture of the Year. It was said to have been an inspiration for the award after founder John J. B. Wilson saw the film on a double-bill with the equally reviled "Xanadu."

Jenner's reviews were as bad as those of the movie, with Variety, (quoted on the film's Wiki page) writing: "The Village People, along with ex-Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, have a long way to go in the acting stakes." She didn't make a movie again until 2011 Adam Sandler's "Jack and Jill," which also won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture. Jenner was nominated for a Worst Actor Golden Raspberry award, but lost to Neil Diamond for the updated "The Jazz Singer."

Jenner's public persona rose again in 2007 as a cast member of the E! reality series "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" along with then-wife Kris Jenner, stepchildren Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, and Rob Kardashian (from Kris' marriage to attorney Robert Kardashian), and daughters Kylie and Kendall. She came out to Diane Sawyer in a "20/20" interview in 2015 as a trans woman. Last month, she threw her hat in the expected California gubernatorial recall election of governor Gavin Newsom.

In describing the romantic relationship between Jenner and Valerie Perrine in the film, the website The Spool wrote: "Though they have what can only be described as anti-chemistry, it's practically love at first sight for Ron and Samantha, and soon Ron is loosening up and quitting his job to devote himself full-time to the Village People. How do we know he's fully embraced that crazy downtown New York lifestyle? (S)he wears a crop top and booty shorts, but only for one scene."

The Spool added: "While it cannot be stated enough how bad Caitlyn Jenner is in this, in fairness to her everyone else is too... "'Can't Stop the Music' is an astonishing two hours long, the first half devoted to labored physical comedy, drug humor, gross double entendres, and the occasional racist quip. The second half is an unendurable slog as we slowly, painfully reach the inevitable conclusion that of course the Village People will become an overnight success, otherwise there's no reason for this movie to exist. In addition to not aging well, it's a glaring reminder of how pop culture erased the contributions of gay performers in order to make movies and music more mainstream-friendly. It exists now largely as a subject of "Is it really that bad?" discussion for film buffs and fans of schlock, and yes, it's really that bad. Loud, garish and yet also boring at the same time, it wants to have its cake and eat it too, by portraying a world unfamiliar to most audiences and then squeezing the life and joy out of it."