Camp aficionados have a way of transforming other people's trash into their own personal treasures. And since camp is so thoroughly rooted in irony, it's fitting that camp lovers generally enjoy movies for the same reasons the irony-challenged abhor them. Take 1978's Thank God It's Friday, which was savaged by critics for being a tacky, faddish, unconvincing love letter to disco filled with pop-culture references that have aged like an egg-salad sandwich, plus enough polyester to clothe a fashion-challenged Third World nation. Yet today the film can be appreciated as kitsch for just those reasons. Well, that and Lionel Richie's formidable afro. Thank God It's Friday's immersion in everything disco is a big part of its tacky, superficial charm. It's a big mirror-balled time capsule.
With a sensibility that can best be described as disco American Graffiti by way of ultra-light Robert Altman, Friday details a night's frenzied activities at a disco, and the effect they have on a cross-section of '70s stereotypes. The participants in the PG dance-floor bacchanalia include a pair of teenyboppers hungry to win a dance contest so they can afford KISS tickets, two dweebs out to score, two single female yuppies looking for preppies, and a dance-crazed, leather-clad maniac played with scene-stealing brio by Chick Vennera. The implicit threat that disco and the sexual revolution posed to conventional values is epitomized by a subplot in which the fidelity of a square married professional couple is tested alternately by the amorous advances of a sexy space cadet and by suave club owner Jeff Goldblum.
Thank God It's Friday offers a tourist's-eye view of its disco milieu as a mildly exotic but ultimately harmless way for hardworking people to let off steam. Its comedic sense is strictly sitcom, the music is largely forgettable, and the dance numbers—with the exception of a thrilling Vennera solo—are indifferently filmed, but it at least boasts a slightly mechanical energy befitting its subject. So is Thank God It's Friday a "disco classic," as its back cover claims? Lord no. But it could be the polyester era's very own Empire Records.
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