“The Amy Fisher Story” (1993)

And so, we wrap things up with the most memorable movie in this trilogy of tastelessness, The Amy Fisher Story. Memorable not just because of who was tapped for the leading role, it presents the interesting (and probably mostly true) theory that everyone involved in the “Long Island Lolita” case was a craven opportunist, all but tripping over each other to get a piece of the action. Told from the third party perspective of a newspaper reporter, not one single character comes off well, and even the audience is left feeling a little dirty and ashamed for watching it.

In this version, Amy Fisher is played by Drew Barrymore, in what could reasonably be described as “stunt casting.” Barrymore, younger than Fisher but somehow looking and acting at least a decade older (the distractingly bad wig she wears doesn’t help), was in the middle of her post-rehab “comeback,” still mostly taking roles meant to prove to audiences that she wasn’t cute little Gertie in E.T. anymore. A great example of how Hollywood is a healthy and happy place for young women (or really just women in general) is the fact that The Amy Fisher Story was the second movie in less than a year in which Barrymore, not even eighteen yet, was cast as a murderous teen sexpot who has a steamy affair with a man far too old for her. While comparing The Amy Fisher Story to Poison Ivy is similar to comparing a boil to a sebaceous cyst, The Amy Fisher Story manages to come out slightly ahead.

Considering that the movie opens with Fisher recovering in the hospital from a suicide attempt (and being forced to listen to a television interview in which Mary Jo Buttafuoco refers to her as “the Devil”), you might think it’ll present her in at least a somewhat sympathetic light. But alas, no, once the flashbacks kick in we discover that, even before she meets Joey, she was quite the handful. Wearing even smaller, tighter clothing than Alyssa Milano in last week’s Casualties of Love, she’s got attitude to spare and is making eyes at adult men left and right, much to the chagrin of her overbearing father and her meek, indulgent mother.

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Obsessed with sex, all Amy needs to do is play with her hair and bite her nails (which she does, many, many times), and men are instantly rendered to puddles of drool and jizz. But she’s also a romantic, and wants little more out of life than perfect love and marriage. Oh, and sex, lots and lots of sex–“Don’t you ever wonduh if your parents are doin’ it right now?” she asks a friend grinding away on top of her (curiously, this only temporarily cools his ardor). On the other hand, she also throws violent tantrums over such relatively minor infractions as an insufficient amount of praise for her lasagna, frequently runs away from home, and seems intent on forcing her father to have a heart attack.

She soon meets her match in Joey Buttafuoco (Anthony John Denison), when she brings her car into his auto body shop for what will prove to be an endless number of repairs. Joey is first seen wearing a t-shirt tucked into jogging pants, and, like the Joey in Lethal Lolita, is making eyes at Amy instantly upon first meeting, winking at her as she slowly, meaningfully walks away from him. While Amy shows malicious intent towards Mary Jo almost immediately, covering Mary Jo’s face with her thumb while looking at a family portrait Joey keeps in his office, for “happily ever after kinda guy” Joey it’s just harmless flirting. Nevertheless, all it takes is Amy squeezing his bicep and suggestively rubbing a glass of lemonade on her chest and he soon falls into bed with her, in a startlingly explicit for early 90s TV sex scene.

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They only sleep together a few times before Amy begins bringing up the idea of Joey divorcing Mary Jo and marrying her instead. Much to her chagrin, while Joey certainly appreciates the near-constant sex and appeals to his ego, he doesn’t seem terribly interested in getting serious about her (he also refuses to escort her to her prom, in one hilarious scene later in the movie). Lying to her friends about the nature of their relationship, she gripes at Joey about his unreasonable desire to spend the holidays with his wife and family, rather than his teenage lover, and sets a plan in motion to get her competition out of the way.

In the meantime, when she’s not busy trying to cajole Joey into leaving his family, arguing with her parents, or being a prostitute, Amy takes up with a second man, gym owner Paul Makely, whose mullet and pornstache clearly indicate that he’s a trustworthy individual who isn’t in it just for the sex and would never betray her trust for his own gain. Though she professes some vague affection for him, Amy uses Paul mostly for easy sex and as an outlet for her endless complaints about Mary Jo. “If it wasn’t for his wife, we’d definitely be going to prom together,” Amy complains, while Paul stares at her ass. “I hate her.”

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After a friend declines to shoot Mary Jo, Amy eventually does it on her own, and is soon arrested, resulting in the biggest news story of the year. The movie reverts back and forth in time, between when Joey and Amy first meet, and when the shooting turns into a tabloid scandal. Acting as a sort of finger waving voice of reason for the whole tawdry affair is Amy Pagnozzi (Harley Jane Kozak), a Serious Journalist working for the New York Post (the newspaper for Serious Journalism), who takes on the story, though she’d rather be working the 1992 Presidential election beat (“Clinton doesn’t stand a chance!” one of her co-workers, who hopefully doesn’t play the lottery, tells her). Pagnozzi is outraged by the media’s focus on the more salacious details of the case, rather than the seriousness of the crime. Let me reiterate that Pagnozzi, a real life reporter, wrote for the New York Post, which once ran a cover story about Anthony Weiner with the headline SAME OLD SCHLONG & DANCE.

Pagnozzi is also (rightfully) outraged when Amy is slapped with a steep $2 million bail, pointing out that even serial killers don’t get hit that hard (indeed, “Preppy Murderer” Robert Chambers only received $200,000). Meanwhile, as Amy sits in jail, Joey’s doing interviews with Howard Stern (or rather, an actor doing an atrocious Howard Stern impersonation), while a recovering from her injuries Mary Jo alternates between publicly railing at Amy and a system that would dare accuse her husband of statutory rape, and making eye-rolling declarations of her and Joey’s undying love. “I’m standing by my Joey,” she says in one interview. “I love my Joey, my Joey loves me.” It’s a bold move to make even the victim in an attempted murder case look bad (the pro-Amy Lethal Lolita made the wise choice of having Mary Jo only briefly appear on camera), but by God, The Amy Fisher Story accomplishes just that.

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Joey himself all but disappears halfway through the movie, when it become a boring, self-righteous indictment of the predatory media, as well as self-serving creeps like Paul Makley, who, you’ll be shocked to know, sells Amy out, secretly filming her as she talks about wanting conjugal visits from him while she’s in jail, and her desire to earn as much money for her “pain and suffering” as possible. That’s a rich accusation to make in a movie that spends an inordinately large amount of time focusing on Amy’s seemingly pathological obsession with sex, as she’s unable to pull it together long enough to stop herself from flirting and making fuck eyes at her befuddled lawyer, or reminiscing about sex with Joey while she’s sitting in court at her own bail hearing.

The movie wraps up with the infamous plea bargain, sparing Amy a couple of decades in the pokey, and Amy contacting Pagnozzi to tell her story (while presumably collecting a fat check for it, as everyone else who had even the most remote association with it did). Though Pagnozzi expresses dismay over how Amy is portrayed in the tabloids, in the end she too seems to be just as appalled by her behavior as the rest of the world. Shocked when Amy’s mother refuses to express anything other than love, and even pride, for her only child, Pagnozzi asks “Can’t you at least concede that she’s a monumental brat?”, to which Amy’s mother, in the best line in all three movies, replies “You mean, is she spirited?” Though the movie should have ended right then and there, it instead closes on a maudlin note, with Amy in the hospital and still daydreaming about lasagna and snuggles with her one true love: Joey Buttafuoco.

Now, what have we learned from this arduous journey? Well, I said in the review of Casualties of Love that there are three sides to every story. In situations like this, however, there’s also a fourth side, that of the media, which twists and emphasizes various facts, half-truths, and outright lies in the manner that best serves whichever narrative will sell the most papers or earn the most ratings. It’s no surprise that one of the few things all three movies agree on is that Amy, at some point during her relationship with Joey (and still in high school), began working as an escort, because in real life that grotesque little tidbit garnered more media interest than Mary Jo Buttafuoco’s attempted murder. It didn’t matter that it was irrelevant to the case–what was important was that it was the lowest point in a story that was nothing but low points, and thus the most titillating.

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The Amy Fisher Story is particularly shameless in trying to have its cake and eat it too, chastising the press for its relentless chasing of a tragic story turned late night talk show joke, and holding the viewer complicit for being fascinated by it, while featuring a semi-nude love scene involving a 17 year-old actress and a 43 year-old actor. I come away from watching all three movies confused, dismayed, and a little embarrassed about being part of the contingency who thought it was pretty funny to dunk on a troubled young woman, almost certainly an incest survivor, and sexually and emotionally manipulated by a man twice her age.

Thankfully, by the time all the movies aired, the story was starting to die down (though it was extremely satisfying when Joey Buttafuoco finally got his comeuppance just a month later). Mary Jo eventually had her “come to Jesus” moment and left Joey, albeit a decade later than they should have. Other than writing a modestly successful book about her experience and briefly returning to the interview circuit to promote it, she’s maintained a relatively low profile. Amy and Joey, on the other hand, evidently having nothing else to offer, have clung tenaciously to their brief but glorious notoriety, taking bit parts in B-movies with titles like Mafia Movie Madness, appearing in pay-per-view porn, doing a stint on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, and, in Joey’s case, besting the late wrestler Joanie “Chyna” Laurer in a “celebrity” boxing match. To be fair, Chyna was not yet deceased at the time.

The former lovebirds even worked together on a publicity stunt with the producer of a proposed reality show about them, who claimed that they had reunited and it felt so good. Undoubtedly to their surprise, no one really cared. The world had moved on without Joey and Amy, and no one fondly looks back on this, a shadow box relic of the last time it was fully acceptable to mock and sexualize a teenage girl–just as long as she’s a bad girl.

And now, for the final round of questions…

How’s the hair? There’s not enough that can be said about the horrific rat’s nest poor Drew Barrymore is forced to wear on her head, except that it looks like something you’d fish out of the gutter the day after a Halloween parade.

How about those Lon Guyland accents? Barrymore is the only cast member who really makes an attempt at it, and even then it’s inconsistent.

How much do the actors look like their real life counterparts? Anthony John Denison bears a mild resemblance to Joey, albeit a considerably thinner, more weathered Joey. In keeping with portraying him as the buffoon he really was, he wears Joey’s beloved Zubaz workout pants, so extra credit for that. Barrymore, who somehow manages to look younger as she gets older, pulls off a hard “16 going on 30” look, but still doesn’t look anything like Amy.

Saxophone music during the love scenes? Surprisingly, no, just synthesizer music more appropriate for the erotic thriller it desperately wants to be, rather than the gross and sad true story it actually is.

Original airdate: January 3, 1993

Watch it here

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