Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual harrassment

26 years before The Holdovers became a surprise success, Disney buried one of the best boarding school dramedy movies ever made. While 2023’s The Holdovers wasn’t a massive box office success, director Alexander Payne’s darkly comedic drama was by no means a failure. The boarding school movie earned stellar reviews upon release and performed admirably at the box office given its stiff competition. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for one earlier boarding school dramedy that deserved to be a huge hit. 1998’s All I Wanna Do is as accomplished as Payne’s movie, but it has been largely forgotten.

While the cast of The Holdovers earned surprise Oscar nominations, All I Wanna Do failed to recoup a fraction of its modest budget at the box office. The comedy-drama, set in the fictional Miss Godard’s Preparatory School for Girls, was written and directed by Sarah Kernochan. Between its sharp script, its cast of present and future stars, and its thoughtful satire, All I Wanna Do deserved to be a mainstream success and a potential awards contender. Instead, it flopped and subsequently vanished without a trace. The reasons for this fate include Disney, a string of title changes, and the Weinsteins.

All I Wanna Do Is An Underrated School Comedy Classic

The Kirsten Dunst vehicle boasted an amazing cast and a killer premise

With an incredible cast including Kirsten Dunst, Gaby Hoffman, Rachael Leigh Cook, Merit Weaver, Monica Keena, Heather Matarazzo, and Vincent Kartheiser, All I Wanna Do had all the ingredients of a huge hit. Like the 70s period piece The Holdovers, All I Wanna Do is set a few decades before its release. All I Wanna Do‘s story follows Odie, a rebellious teenager who is transferred to Miss Godard’s when her parents discover that she has planned to have sex with her boyfriend. Odie is taken in by Dunst’s precocious troublemaker, Keena’s subversive sweetheart Tinka, Matarazzo’s troubled Tweety, and Weaver’s studious scientist Momo.

Together, the girls form a secret society, the Daughters of the American Ravioli, that scupper the school’s plan to merge with a boy’s academy and become a coed institution. A subplot focused on the school’s headmistress, Lynn Redgrave’s Miss McVane, as she does everything in her power to stop the takeover from occurring. While both movies are comparable in terms of tone and themes, where The Holdovers‘ Angus is its lone leading teen protagonist, All I Wanna Do‘s story centers its young heroines as opposed to adults. Outside of Miss McVane, most adult characters are uncaring parents or predatory teachers.

All I Wanna Do Balanced Drama and Comedy Perfectly

The underrated dramedy’s story tackled real issues with wit and verve

Monica Keena's Tinka looking unimpressed in All I Wanna Do 1998

Like The Holdovers, All I Wanna Do finds a delicate balance that allows the movie to address issues like bulimia and misogyny while also finding room for gross-out humor. All I Wanna Do‘s immature gags make its serious moments even stronger, as the movie swerves from a creepy teacher attempting to assault Odie to a goofy set-piece where the visiting schoolboys throw up all over the stage at a choir recital. This haphazard blend of tones perfectly reflects the chaotic experience of puberty, where serious issues clash with absurd moments and life can fly from scary to hilarious in an instant.

The best distillation of All I Wanna Do‘s unique appeal comes in one set piece. Matarazzo’s sweet, naive Tweet is tricked into removing her bra by a schoolboy whose friend snaps a photo. This devastating depiction of teenage trauma is soon ameliorated by Tinka’s townie love interest Snake beating up the boys and breaking their camera while the girls trick them into drinking ipecac syrup, resulting in the aforementioned deluge of onstage vomiting. In many movies, this tonal swerve would be a disaster. Thanks to preternaturally skilled performances from Matarazzo, Keena, and Kartheiser, it is somehow tragic, hilarious, and unexpectedly triumphant.

Why All I Wanna Do Was Forgotten

The movie’s director alleged that Harvey Weinstein sabotaged the 1998 flop

Monica Keena's Tinka and Kirsten Dunst's Verena wear school uniforms in a dorm room in All I Wanna Do

Many great boarding school movies have succeeded at the box office, with The Holdovers being the most recent example of this. As such, it is tough to see why All I Wanna Do failed to find an audience with its starry cast, deft direction, and charming script. Unfortunately, the answer allegedly lies with one of the movie industry’s most odious figures. In 2019, Kernochan took to Twitter to allege that disgraced producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein’s distribution company Miramax didn’t do anything to promote All I Wanna Do‘s release, which would explain its unlikely failure.

While it was eventually acquired by Disney, All I Wanna Do went straight to video despite Dunst’s considerable star power. Its chances at success were further hurt by a string of title changes. Distributors feared that the original title, The Hairy Bird, would prove too tasteless for mainstream audiences. This note came only after the movie’s opening credits and closing credits included an animated depiction of the eponymous Hairy Bird and a song about it, both of which were bizarrely out of place in the re-titled movie. To make matters worse, All I Wanna Do was then inexplicably re-titled Strike!.

You can watch
All I Wanna Do
, a.k.a.
on Amazon Prime Video.

Why All I Wanna Do Deserves A Comeback

This modern classic has been unfairly forgotten since its 1998 release

Kirsten Dunst's Verena looking delighted beside a Coke machine in All I Wanna Do 1998

Like 2023’s The Holdovers, All I Wanna Do is a period dramedy whose unique setting allows the movie to delve deep into the messy relationship between teens and their educational institutions. The underrated movie is also a fun girl power story, a sweet drama, and a raucous comedy that never got its flowers when it originally arrived in theaters. As such, All I Wanna Do is overdue a revival. The movie should be recognized both for the contributions of its superb young cast and the strength of its writing, which perfectly captures the muddled idealism and cynicism of teens.

How All I Wanna Do Compares To The Holdovers

All I Wanna Do prioritizes students while The Holdovers focuses on a teacher

While All I Wanna Do and The Holdovers do have a lot in common, the movies diverge in some pivotal respects. All I Wanna Do is a bawdier, more fast-paced teen movie, while The Holdovers has the melancholy tone of Payne’s earlier efforts. Meanwhile, although The Holdovers‘ ending does bring the stories of its main characters together, the movie is primarily centered on Paul Giamatti’s gruff, cynical antihero. The teacher is the movie’s main character, whereas All I Wanna Do is more concerned with its students. Despite these differences, All I Wanna Do still deserves the same acclaim and fame that The Holdovers is currently enjoying.

The Holdovers

Release Date
November 10, 2023

Alexander Payne

Paul Giamatti , Da’Vine Joy Randolph , Dominic Sessa , Carrie Preston

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