Get ready explorers! This week Video Vault “digs” into the doubly (and deceptively) titled Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain. This 1995 release stars Christina Ricci and My Girls‘s Anna Chlumsky as teenage treasure hunters. I distinctly remember not liking this movie upon its release, lets see if my opinion changed in the 17 year interim (spoiler: it didn’t).
Beth (Ricci) and her mom move from Los Angeles to the ambiguously located rural town of Wheaton in the opening of Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain. Uninterested in the other simpleton country girls, Beth is fascinated by the boyish and outspoken troublemaker, Jody (Chlumsky), after they bond over Winnie the Pooh. The rest of the town thinks she’s a lying bully, but actually Jody is the victim of alcoholism and abuse by her mom’s sleazy boyfriend, Ray (David Keith). After telling Beth a story about a cross-dressing, prospecting, Irish pioneer immigrant, Molly Morgan, who has allegedly hidden gold in the bowels of Bear Mountain, they set off to find the treasure. Turns out Jody has a boat and has even decorated a “condo” inside the mountain. A flash storm ruins their plans. A few days later Beth and her mom show up at Jody’s house only to find Jody’s mom passed out on the ground and evidence of a struggle. Nobody believes Beth when she tells them that Ray, an apparently beloved townie, has kidnapped Jody in an attempt to find and steal the rumored treasure. After a great deal of convincing on Beth’s part, Beth and the sheriff go on a rescue mission to find Jody. In an anti-climactic showdown in which the gold turns out to be glow worms, a mysterious 60-year-old woman appears and knocks out the inebriated Ray with a shovel. The film concludes with an attorney showing up in Wheaton to present Beth and Jody with bags of gold from an anonymous benefactor.
The first thing that Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain loses points for is the title. 1) Why are there two of them? 2) There is no digging involved, very little bears, and the ‘secrets’ are just plot holes posing as uninspired mystery. Obviously, the old woman who saves the day is supposed to be the pioneer woman, Molly Morgan, but she would have been long dead before Beth and Jody ever showed up. I guess there are supernatural elements to this story? Also, it is assumed that she is the one who sends them the bags of gold at the end, but there is absolutely no reasoning for this. They did nothing for her, why is she giving them gold? What I find most deceptive about the film’s title, however, is the fact that you would expect a story called Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain to have some sense of adventure and heroism, and yet all we get is a cautionary tale of domestic abuse. This flick is a lot more The Spitfire Grill than it is Indiana Jones. Any feeling of venturing into the unknown is made moot by the fact that it is clear that Jody has been inside this mountain tons of times before. In fact, the leads never do anything at all, except yell at stupid adults. They don’t dig or search for treasure. They don’t have any adventures. They don’t take down the protagonist (some old lady steps out of the darkness and does it for them). They don’t help anybody. And then gold just gets handed to them. Even in a scene where Jody encounters a grizzly nothing happens, the bear just walks away. The only scene that may have had some excitement, the struggle between Jody and Ray before her kidnapping in which she supposedly stabs him with a fishing pole, is left off screen. The “secret” of Bear Mountain is that instead of gold, there is an old lady living there. That’s the most disappointing revelation since Catfish.
Another thing I do not like about this movie is that none of the other adults take Jody’s allegations of abuse seriously. They are all idiots. Come on, child services would be all up in this case if this were real life. Maybe it is because Jody is so annoying that nobody cares. She comes across as selfish and seems to genuinely enjoy being a bully and loner. Chlumsky’s irritating, fast-talking, Minnesota accent does not help either. There is really nothing likeable about her. Ricci is a fine enough actress, but her constant pleas for some adult intelligence are also grating. The one thing that I do like about Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain is the serious lesbian vibe. Jody, with her strange Hanson hair cut, is always in boy clothes and enjoys doing John Travolta impersonations. They idolize a cross-dressing mountain woman. The one time Beth mentions some “cute boys”, Jody says that boys are only interested in them for their money. Finally, the film ends on a double freeze frame. The first freeze frame is of the two girls walking together into the sunset, the second freeze frame ends on them holding hands and spinning in circles as the credits roll. It seems to me like there is a little bit more of a connection between these high schoolers than just friendship.
Anyway, if you are interested in a lesbian under-toned, non-adventure about domestic abuse, look no further than Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain!