When Netflix added Troop Beverly Hills to instant streaming late last year, we immediately organized a group twitter watch and had the time of our lives sharing this movie experience for the first time. And, yes, this movie is FUN but watching it as adults made us realize how many life lessons they snuck into it, somehow without ever crossing that annoying after school special line. Phyllis Nefler is a queen, a fashion icon, and a role model. She and the girls are a team, and teamwork has never looked so enjoyable and so rewarding.
Which makes it all the more baffling that the Girl Scouts objected to this movie. In a special feature on the recently released Blu-ray, Shelley Long explains that the organization was sent a copy of the script, only to report that they wanted nothing to do with the movie and wouldn’t allow use of the Girl Scout name (we personally think “Wilderness Girls” sounds more badass anyway). Sure, Phyllis may not be the woman you automatically think of when you think of a troop leader, but the lessons she teaches the girls in her troop–and the lessons she learns herself–are lessons that any Girl Scout, Wilderness Girl, or human being should keep in their back pocket. Turns out shopping wasn’t Troop 332’s greatest skill after all.
-Sarah and Maggie
“Never go to Reno, girls.”
In the movie, Phyllis follows up this tidbit of advice to the girls at the divorce court hearing with “California property laws can’t be beat.” And yes, it’s practical (if a bit cynical?) advice. But I think the larger lesson to draw here is about self-worth and knowing your value. Phyllis becomes stronger over the course of the movie, but even at the very beginning when she and Freddie are arguing, she tells him not to mock her and states that he never acknowledges her contribution to their marriage. She stands up for herself, even though she’s vulnerable and doubting herself a little. And by the time Freddie tells her he’s proud of her during the check presentation gala in the middle of the movie, she’s grateful for his acknowledgment but I think it’s a more significant moment when she replies that she’s proud of herself too.
As a young woman in the professional world, I know a bit about being underestimated and not being taken as seriously as I should be so I relate pretty hard to Phyllis, who’s faced with this constantly throughout the movie. I think very carefully before I speak because I want people to hear the content of what I’m saying and not have an excuse to write me off as hysterical if I’m not perfectly calm. I have to know my worth and stand up for myself first instead of leaving it up to others to do it for me. There are always going to be people like Freddie who underestimate you or Velda who won’t give you a fair chance. You can’t let them shake you; you have to be confident in yourself and your abilities and carry on and prove them wrong.
“Good for her! Not for me.”
Phyllis and the girls are pitted against Velda’s version of a Wilderness Girl for the entire movie, which is ridiculous when you look at Velda’s expectations of a troop leader. In the orientation meeting, she explains, “When we’re looking for new leaders, we’re looking for a real no-nonsense woman, a woman who can cope with anything, a woman who doesn’t cause a ruckus, but can still get the job done.” So let’s go through this checklist, shall we? The troop earns 36 patches in three weeks. Sure, some of them aren’t marking traditional achievements (although Gardening with Glamour should really be a mainstay), but everything the troop did still warranted hard work. They end up selling over four thousand boxes of cookies without going door-to-door, and I’d love for someone to explain to me why celebrating an accomplishment of that magnitude constitutes an embarrassment to the organization, VELDA. They make it to the jamboree and win despite the Red Feathers’ constant cheating AND making time to help an injured Velda get to the finish line. Perhaps most important out of everything, she adapts the teachings of the organization into lessons the girls can use in their everyday lives in Beverly Hills. If that doesn’t flat-out scream “Troop Leader of the Year,” I don’t know what does. Phyllis got the job done; it just wasn’t on Velda’s terms. But her terms are irrelevant, as Beverly Hills becomes the new poster troop.
Sorry, Ms. Plendor. Better luck with Velda’s Avengers. But once you secede from the organization, maybe you should teach your new batch of girls that life isn’t one-size-fits-all, that sacrificing yourself in order to squeeze into another person’s expectations only strips the joy out of success. And then you can commemorate the whole thing with a Good for Her, Not for Me patch.
“Uniforms blur an individual’s sense of self.”
I wore a school uniform from first through eighth grade and it still weirdly influences my sense of style, a full 20 years later. I tend to wear similar outfits every day, I feel anxious when I am over or underdressed, I can’t wear shirts with collars. I was a bridesmaid in September and wearing the same dress and shoes as five other ladies felt so soothing, I can’t even tell you. And sure, we personalized our school uniforms by choosing accessories but no one ever came close to the way Phyllis made her troop leader uniforms her own. I love how she describes everything wrong with the standard uniform to the girls when she tries it on for the first time, only to declare “But all of that can be fixed.” You don’t have to accept what’s given to you as is and you don’t have to let someone else mold you. You can have a great experience as part of a group or team while still being yourself and an individual. Yes, uniforms can blur an individual’s sense of self and the lesson here is not to let them.
“The most important thing is having friends.”
Leave it to Phyllis to hit on something so simple yet so vital. While she’s consoling Emily after learning of her family’s financial problems, Phyllis drops a truth bomb. In the end, material possessions don’t matter nearly as much as the people you choose to have around you. Friends are chosen family. They see you at your worst, help you wipe away your tears, and still love you unconditionally. They put a Tina Turner wig on and sing with you about chocolate chip cookies. They try out new dance moves with you in brightly colored spandex. They throw impromptu birthday parties for you when your parents are in Monte Carlo. They are your rock, your safety net, your level head, and your spontaneity. They make life seem less overwhelming and make sure you are never alone in your hour of need. And, of course, if you need a loan to pay for your patches, they can float you one with little to no interest.
“I have never taken the high road, but I tell other people to ‘cause then there’s more room for me on the low road.”
Learning experiences come from unexpected places.
“In the wilderness of life, we can never be too prepared.”
Okay, yes, this is how Phyllis replies when accused of being impractical and packing too many clothes for a camping trip. (Who hasn’t been there, am I right?) But I always relate this to Phyllis’s journey toward being self-reliant over the course of the movie. She goes from having hired help set up the tents for the girls on their camping trip to leading the girls through the jamboree course without even Annie’s help after that unfortunate encounter with the water moccasin. I have to agree with Sarah here on heading home after getting a look at the log — but after taking on the challenges of creating badges for the girls and coming up with unconventional yet successful ways to sell cookies, Phyllis is totally ready for it to tackle it. As she puts it, “It was nothing, it wasn’t that bad, it was AWFUL, but we made it!”
Everyone has a Frances Temple.
As the head of the Wilderness Girls organization, Frances Temple becomes a champion for the Beverly Hills troop and an unsung hero of the movie by having zero patience for Velda’s foolishness (because, frankly, no one has time for that…except maybe those creepy Red Feathers). Velda wants the Beverly Hills troop disbanded from the start? Frances allows for one more chance. Velda gathers evidence to back up her argument? Frances says it’s proof that they “found their niche.” Troop Beverly Hills wants to show everyone that they’re real Wilderness Girls? Frances tells them they’ve always been real Wilderness Girls. Even though it’s buried in an avalanche of obstacles, Troop 332 has a support system throughout their entire journey.
It’s so easy to forget about the people in our corner when the chips are down and our problems are in full focus. Frances takes a back seat in the movie, but she’s always there with an encouraging spirit and a razor-sharp remark to knock Velda off her high horse. Maybe we’re not being stripped of our Sushi Appreciation patches or told that our version of a Wilderness Girl is an embarrassment to the organization, but we’ve all experienced some sort of crisis that takes center stage and makes us feel like we’re going it alone. The truth, however, is that for every person against us, there is at least one person rooting for us. There will always be a Frances Temple—or, if we’re lucky, a gaggle of Frances Temples—standing on the sidelines, cheering for us when we finally cross the finish line of that jamboree. We just need to remember to take a step back so she can come into view.
Never let them see you sweat.
When people try to make Phyllis doubt herself (ahem, Velda, but also disappointingly ahem, Freddie), she does a great job of holding her head high and not giving them the satisfaction. Even when she falls out of a window while spying on Freddie and Lisa. Even when she falls into the pool in front of the entire check presentation gala. Head. Held. High. This is one of my favorite things about Phyllis: When she’s beat, she doesn’t let people revel in it. It reminds me of one of my favorite Carrie moments from Sex and the City (which, can we acknowledge how Carrie would die over Phyllis and her wardrobe?) when she fell down on the runway. As Carrie put it, “I had a choice — I could slink off the runway and let my inner model die of shame, or I could pick myself up, flaws and all, and finish. And that’s just what I did. Because when real people fall down in life, they get right back up and keep walking.” I love the example that Phyllis sets for the girls here.
Seriously, screw you, Velda.
In the words of my queen diva Cher, “I answer to two people—myself and God—and I don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks about me.” Troop Beverly Hills carries the same sentiment, albeit slightly more family friendly. It’s easy to focus on how Phyllis embodies this principle, but Annie Herman’s evolution is just as rewarding to watch. In the beginning, Annie is so content to blindly follow Velda into the wilderness. But once she spends a decent amount of time with Phyllis, she realizes the error in aiding in Velda’s crusade to get rid of the Beverly Hills troop, dumps her spy equipment, and gains the courage to ultimately stand up for herself in the grandest fashion (Let’s be real, that “SCREW YOU, VELDA!” at the check presentation gala is IMMENSELY satisfying).
The only person you ever have to answer to is yourself (and maybe a higher power, if, like Cher, you’re inclined to make the addition). As long as you know what you’re doing is right and you’re secure in your actions, any outside opinion shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter. And if anyone challenges you, you always harbor the power to stand up for yourself. You are not in the wrong for doing so.
Never, ever, ever give up.
In the beginning of the movie, Freddie throws in Phyllis’s face all of the projects that she’s picked up and quit. So she has something to prove, but mainly to herself. Especially because being a troop leader is different from, say, Hands Across America, because it’s about Hannah, and her troop, who need Phyllis. I might be overreaching but I don’t think she had felt needed by Freddie in a long time. So in spite of all the challenges that Phyllis faces as a troop leader, she never gives up. During their somewhat disastrous first camping attempt, Chica asks “Can we just quit now?” and Phyllis replies “Not until we sing kumbaya.” And even after the troop sings it together, she doesn’t really let them quit per se when they leave the campsite, they camp at the hotel instead. Their way. Velda pulled out all the stops in her efforts to make Phyllis want to quit (seriously, she sent a spy into Phyllis’s home, what are these stakes?) but Phyllis is much tougher than Velda was banking on. Velda nearly succeeded when she accused Phyllis of endangering the girls by leading them in the jamboree without proper training, but the girls — having learned from the best — won’t let her quit. Emily (a tiny Kellie Martin!) even says “You didn’t let me run away, and we won’t let you either.” And not only did they finish the course, they WON. (An actual victory, not the Red Feathers’ hollow trophy-stealing victory).
Instant gratification isn’t ultimately rewarding.
This is one of those lessons that peeks its head around the corner throughout the entire movie, but it proudly shows itself in the cookie montage. Vicki Sprantz has a valid point during the parent meeting: they’re denizens of Beverly Hills with a crazy amount of money; buying two thousand boxes of cookies would have taken all of ten seconds and yielded the same result. But it would have been a hollow victory, and flown in the face of everything the girls already achieved. In forgoing the easy way out, the motivation and determination to meet your goal unleashes amazing things you may never have realized you were capable of. When you’re backed into a corner—or you’re edged out of your cookie turf because the Red Feathers can’t grasp the concept of the Wilderness Girl promise—creativity shines a light on positive outcomes. And when you’ve finished crashing Spago and Robin Leach closes your fashion show, you just might find that in working your way through the difficult parts, you’ve not only met your goal, you’ve exceeded it.
Also, if the troop had taken the easy way out, we would have been robbed of the “Cookie Time” song. That’s a tragedy I don’t even want to think about.
What are YOUR favorite life lessons from Troop Beverly Hills? Let us know in the comments!