Who's That Girl is a 1987 American romantic comedy film produced by Warner Bros., and starring Madonna and Griffin Dunne. The film was written by Andrew Smith and Ken Finkleman, and directed by James Foley. Madonna plays Nikki Finn, a street-smart woman who is falsely accused of murder and sent to jail for four years. After getting released, she is supposed to be escorted by a lawyer named Loudon Trott (Dunne), to her hometown of Philadelphia. However, Nikki wants to catch those responsible for her confinement. While searching for the embezzler, both of them get caught in a series of adventures, resulting in the revelation of the true murderer. In the process, Nikki and Loudon fall in love with each other.
After the box-office failure of her 1986 film Shanghai Surprise, Madonna decided to sign another comedy film titled Slammer, which was later renamed to Who's That Girl. However, she had to convince both Warner Bros. and the producers of the film that she was ready for the project. Madonna enlisted her friend James Foley to direct the film. Shooting began in New York in October 1986, and continued until March 1987. Production was halted during December due to snowfall in New York. Madonna utilized the time to work on her next tour and the soundtrack of the film.
The film was released on August 8, 1987, with the premiere taking place at Times Square of New York. At the premiere, Madonna reminisced about arriving at Times Square for the first time, eight years prior, with only $35 in her pocket. The film was also promoted through the Who's That Girl World Tour, which went on to be a critical and commercial success, grossing in total of US $25 million, and playing in front of 1.5 million audiences.
Who's That Girl ended up being a critical and commercial failure. Reviewers were highly disappointed with the film, and Foley's direction. Some went on to call it one of the worst films to be released, while others found Madonna's comic timing to be one of the highlights. Who's That Girl opened in 944 American theatres, and grossed $2.5 million in its first week. Its worldwide total was about $7.3 million, most of it coming from European markets. However, the soundtrack of the film enjoyed commercial success. Three of Madonna's songs were released as singles—the title track, "Causing a Commotion" and "The Look of Love". It went on to sell six million copies worldwide.
Nikki Finn is a carefree, young woman, who is always dressed up in leather jacket and skirt, with fire-red lips, platinum bob hair and speaking in a high-pitched voice. One day, her boyfriend Johnny uncovers two men stealing money out of a trust fund and takes pictures of the theft. Johnny puts the pictures in a safety deposit box and gives Nikki the key, for safekeeping. The thieves catch Johnny and murder him, then frame Nikki by putting his body into the trunk of her car. Nikki is sentenced to seven years in prison.
After four years, the story presents tax attorney Loudon Trott (Griffin Dunne) on a busy day. He is getting married to the daughter of one of the richest men in New York, Simon Worthington. Loudon's bride Wendy Worthington (Haviland Morris) is a selfish woman who is more consumed in her wedding plans than in the well-being of her fiancée. Loudon, on the other hand, has a number of duties entrusted to him by Mr. Worthington. First he has to pick up a cougar for an exotic animal activist named Montgomery Bell (John Mills), then to pick up Nikki, and lastly he has to make sure that Nikki catches the next bus to her hometown of Philadelphia.
Nikki, meanwhile, is determined to catch the actual thieves and bring forth the truth. After meeting Loudon, Nikki cons him into taking her shopping. After taking a Rolls Royce into Harlem to buy a gun - and nearly being arrested during a police raid - she explains her story to Loudon who believes that she is innocent, and decides to help her. She's also on the run from a pimpnamed Raoul (Coati Mundi) and his lackey Benny (Dennis Burkley), the people who killed Johnny. Only after dangling off a car smashed through the top floor of a parking garage, does he tell her the bank and the box number of Nikki's slain boyfriend.
Afterward Nikki vanishes with the cougar (who she names "Murray"). Loudon visits Mr. Bell to apologize for losing the animal, to find Nikki had delivered Murray and was waiting for him at Mr. Bell's home. He has created a Brazilian rainforest filled with animals on top of his roof. There Nikki and Loudon — who had become close with each other on their journey — express their love for each other. Loudon delivers Nikki to the bus station the next morning, but Nikki becomes broken-hearted, realizing that she has to go back to Philadelphia, leaving Loudon, who is about to get married. While on the bus, she opens an envelope in the security box and finds the photographs that prove that Mr. Worthington is an embezzler and he was the mastermind behind the theft. Nikki gate-crashes the wedding, gets Mr. Worthington arrested and proclaims her love for Loudon. The film ends with Nikki and Loudon riding off into the sunset on a bus to Philadelphia, with Murray chasing after them.
"I was young, I was twenty-eight. So, being given the opportunity to work on a Warner Bros. film with a huge star was attractive to me for all the wrong reasons. Everyone has a bit of Hollywood lust in them. Warner Bros. approached me because they knew I knew Madonna and she had asked for me, and was convinced to do it. At Close Range was a dark film, and going towards comedy was totally the wrong direction. But I didn't care."—Director James Foley talking about why he chose to direct Who's That Girl
Madonna's 1986 studio album True Blue was a critical and commercial success, spawning five top-five singles, and selling over eight million copies worldwide, by the year-end. However, her film career was not as successful as she had hoped it would be. Following the commercially successful Desperately Seeking Susan, her 1986 film Shanghai Surprise—where she starred with her then husband Sean Penn—was a critical and box-office failure, prompting Madonna to comment that she "struggled to come to terms with her character in Shanghai Surprise, because the innocence and repressed personality I was required to portray was so at variance with my own character." Continuing to struggle with her film career, Madonna was unsure about of her ability to choose a goodscript, and film producers were less sure about backing her up.
Madonna felt that comedy was more of her repertoire, and proceeded to sign a comedy film titled Slammer, written by Andrew Smith and Ken Finkleman. She wanted to play the part of a street smart girl called Nikki Finn, who was jailed for a crime she did not commit. However, in light of the bad publicity surrounding her and Penn, and also of the very public failure of Shanghai Surprise, Madonna had to persuade producers Rosilyn Heller and Bernard Williams, as well as Warner Brothers, that she was up for the part. In addition, she wanted an old friend, James Foley to direct the film. Foley had previously been Penn's best man at his marriage to Madonna, and had also directed the music videos of Madonna's singles "Live to Tell" (1986) and "Papa Don't Preach" (1986). He was ecstatic at having the opportunity to make a major feature film, as previously he had only directed the small-budgeted film At Close Range, starring Penn. As author Andrew Morton pointed out in his biography on Madonna, "the combination of a dubiously talented movie star and a first-time movie director hardly guaranteed a box-office hit, but the film received the go-ahead from Warner, who wanted to encache more on Madonna's success."Madonna plowed gamely on, saying: "All Warner's executives were real positive about the project. It was a process—with the writers—of honing the script, making it better."
Casting for the film began as soon as Madonna had signed up for it. Griffin Dunne was signed to play the part of Loudon Trott, a lawyer whose job was to help Nikki get on a bus, after she was released. Initially Madonna had thought of asking Penn to play the part of Detective Bellson, but Penn was serving a 60-day jail term, having violated the probation he received in 1986, for assaulting a friend of Madonna and attacking an extra on the set of At Close Range. The part went to Robert Swan, followed by the signing of John McMartin, Haviland Morris and Bibi Besch as Trott's father-in-law, fiancée, and mother-in-law respectively. Madonna herself commented that she had a lot in common with the character Nikki. "She's courageous and sweet and funny and misunderstood. But she clears her name in the last, and that's always good to do. I'm continuously doing that with the public. I liked Nikki's tough side and her sweet side. The toughness is only a mask for the vulnerability she feels inside."Madonna was also offered the lead role in the Blake Edwards comedy film Blind Date opposite to Bruce Willis, but she refused it in favor of Slammer. She said, "The thing I had planned to do after Shanghai Surprise was Blind Date at Tri-Star. I was supposed to have the approval of the director and the leading man, but they didn't tell me they'd already hired Bruce Willis. That... just didn't work out. But I was really excited about doing a real physical, screwball comedy, so when Jamie brought this up, it was like my reward." Coati Mundi, member of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and Madonna's long-time friend joined the cast to play the role of Raoul, Nikki's enemy. Costume designer Deborah Scott was signed to create the wardrobe for the film. Madonna, who visualized the character of Nikki as a dizzy screwball blond, started watching the screwball comedies of the sixties, especially the work of actors like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Judy Holiday. She asked Scott to create comical rah-rah and ballet tutu skirts for the character, with fishnet tights and loud make-up. Scott also designed a glamorous Monroe-esque dress for the love scene between her and Dunne.
Filming began in New York in October 1986. There was a huge crowd around the shooting location trying to get closer to her, whenever she stepped on the set. But Madonna was approachable, signing autographs for the children of the crew, joining in with the wisecracking and when not busy, she used to dance around a boom box with Mundi. When shooting commenced, Madonna would ask for five minutes to study the script and the scene they were shooting; her idea of preparing for the part was not studied. For example, before a scene in which she needed to appear out of breath, she did a series of push-ups before going on set. Always punctual and professional on the set, Madonna felt that her first takes were perfect and refused to appear for second or third takes. Dunne observed that "[Madonna] likes her first take best. I think my best is around fourth. She always says, 'You got it, you got it,' and she was driving me crazy just like her character would. We had to make a compromise as to which take is the best." Once Foley got down on one knee and kissed Madonna's feet in order to encourage her to do a re-take. Afterwards he noted, "She's very instinctual, what comes out is unencumbered by analysis."Who's That Girl featured a live cougar, which escaped one day from the set, before shooting started, resulting in production being paused for several hours.
Madonna was ready to take direction for her part, relying on Foley to give her all the cues. He, on the other hand, felt that in person, Madonna seemed to morph into a whole different body and self. He believed the process to be oddly elusive and commented that her persona morphing seemed to work most dramatically in Madonna's music videos. "You'd think that that would be the perfect attribute to have for screen acting. But although she 'acts' very well sometimes, she doesn't push the right buttons at the right times over the course of the film. The failure ofShanghai Surprise had left its mark", said Foley. Regarding her acting abilities, Foley stressed on the fact that Madonna was very uptight and into every detail, determined to have the correct portrayal. "That's probably why it wasn't so good. In Desperately Seeking Susan, when she didn't know what she was doing, she was being natural and at her best."
As December arrived, production was halted for a few days due to snowfall in New York City. Madonna decided to utilize the time by working on the soundtrack of the film and also started to note ideas for her next concert tour. While recording the title track, Madonna decided to change the film's name from Slammer to Who's That Girl as she felt it to be a better title. Filming commenced in January 1987, with a scene involving a cougar. But during the second take, the cougar accidentally escaped from the cage, resulting in shooting being paused for a few hours.Madonna remained calm, later noting the incident as "extremely frightening, but I did my best to have my composure. That freaked the others more." Mundi felt that "she's got a bit of that perfectionist thing in her. She doesn't rest. She's got the movie, and the soundtrack album, and also planning her Who's That Girl Tour, doing all these stuff at the same time!" By February 1987, Madonna's scenes were already shot although she proceeded to linger on the set to watch Foley and his team work. Foley commented, that having Madonna around the set and not acting was a "pain-in-the-ass" as she "wont skimp especially on cost and she should know that Warner had a tight schedule and constraints on the budget. They still did not trust Madonna when it came to acting. Hell they even gave a greater percentage of the budget to the soundtrack." Filming ended in March 1987, with post-production continuing till July 1987. During the development of the starting credits, Madonna asked Foley if they could have a cartoon figure of her character introducing the film credits. Foley liked the idea, and Warner enlisted cartoonist April March to create the cartoon.
The film was released on August 7, 1987, in United States to 944 theatres. Warner Bros. did not arrange for an advance screening, as they believed that Madonna's appeal would draw moviegoers to come to the film. A pre-release celebration was held on August 6, 1987, at Times Square in New York, where Madonna arrived to promote the film. A crowd of almost 10,000 people assembled to watch Madonna. As an introduction to the day, the radio jockeys from New York's WHTZ radio station played Madonna's popular songs in the Square, atop a platform created for the event. The police closed off 43rd and 44th streets, but allowing the traffic to pass through Broadway and Seventh Avenue of Manhattan. Around 6 PM, limousines started to arrive at the Square, with celebrities and the actors of the film entering the fanfare. Madonna arrived in a low-cut, low-backed sequined evening gown and the short hair she had adopted for the film. Although she was late by about an hour, the crowd number continued increasing. Asking her fans good-naturedly to "Shut up, so I can talk", Madonna thanked everybody for coming to the opening ofWho's That Girl. She talked about her experience of arriving in Times Square eight years before, and said, "I was completely awestruck. Ten years later, I see all of you who have come to see me, and I'm completely awestruck. Thank you, and I hope you like the movie." Saying this Madonna departed from the platform, and walked to the National Theatre. Joseph A. Cincotti from The New York Times noted that most of the crowd were in their late teenage years and early 20's. Some held up signs and photographs but he noticed the Madonna wannabes were absent, the adolescent girls who had imitated Madonna's early lace-and-leather look. This was a result of Madonna's more mature image from True Blue.
To further promote the film, Madonna embarked on the 1987 Who's That Girl World Tour. It was Madonna's first world tour, reaching Asia, North America and Europe. Musically and technically superior to her previous Virgin Tour, the Who's That Girl tour incorporated multimedia components to make the show more appealing. Madonna trained herself physically with aerobics, jogging and weight-lifting, to cope with the choreography and the dance routines. The stage was bigger than her previous tour, flanked with four video screens, multimedia projectors and a flight of stairs in the middle. Leonard became the music director and encouraged Madonna to go with the idea of rearranging her older songs and presenting them in a new format. Madonna named the tour as Who's That Girl, when during rehearsals one-day she looked at a gigantic image of herself, projected on a screen on the stage and mused about how much she has changed and "who was that girl on the screen?". The show consisted of seven costume changes, with song-and-dance routines, theatrics, addressing social causes—during "Papa Don't Preach"—as well as an encore, consisting of the title song "Who's That Girl" and "Holiday". The tour was critically appreciated, who commented on the extravagant nature of the concert and complimented Madonna for her dancing, costume changes and dynamic pacing. Who's That Girl was a commercial success, grossing in total of US $25 million by playing in front of 1.5 million audience members. According to Pollstar, it was the second top selling female concert tour of 1987, behind Tina Turner's Break Every Rule Tour.