At Chippenango State College (fictitious), Bobby Fine (Ryan O'Neal) is a professor of English, who learns during a meeting with Chair Lincoln of the English Department (Fred Gwynne) that he is a candidate for tenure at the college. During the meeting, Fine impresses Lincoln by responding in kind to an obscure line from William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Another professor, David Rounds, is amazed, and Bobby explains that with his father in the dress business, he'd always liked the play.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Bobby's father, Jack Fine (Jack Warden) walks into luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman attempting to steal customers with an arm-load of his own company's dresses before he is chased out by the manager (Michael Lombard). Back at his office, Jack checks in with his staff, and it becomes clear that his company, Fine Fashions, has excess inventory, poor designs, and high debt. When a buyer for another company (Jessica James) visits the office, Jack reluctantly arranges a sexual liaison with her to secure a sale. Adding to Jack's woes, he receives a phone call summoning him to a meeting with the imposing Mr. Eddie (played by the 7 foot Richard Kiel), a powerful loan shark and gangster holding a loan note on a $150,000 loan taken out by Jack, which has grown to a $1,500,000 debt. During the meeting, Jack confesses he can't pay the note, and Eddie instructs him that he will both take over the Fine Fashions business and kidnap Jack's son and force him to run it.
Eddie's henchmen (Tony Sirico and Michael LaGuardia) kidnap Bobby and bring him to Jack's house, informing the Fines that they are to meet with Eddie at his club. There, Bobby is struck by the beauty of Eddie's wife, Lira (Mariangela Melato). Bobby and Lira are strongly attracted to each other during the meeting, and after suddenly kissing, Lira informs Bobby that she is open to infidelity.
The following day, a montage rolls as Bobby visits with the different employees at Fine Fashions, attempting to learn the business. During the montage, a satirical song from the Ennio Morricone score (Union Label) plays as the employees smoke marijuana and generally laze about in comic fashion. The employees agree that Bobby is a fool.
At the end of the day, Bobby leaves the office and is met by Lira, who invites him into her limousine. She takes Bobby back to Eddie's mansion, and tells him that her marriage to Eddie is a loveless one, arranged to repay her own father's debts, and seduces him. Eddie, who usually returns home late, comes home early, agitated because his game of pinball was interrupted by tilting. Bobby rushes to hide, while Lira hurls his clothing into the fireplace and hides his shoes in a house plant. As a result, even after Eddie goes to sleep, and Bobby is able to sneak out, he is forced to wear an outfit of Lira's when he leaves. Outside, while inspecting the pinball machine smashed earlier by Eddie, the snug women's jeans tear, exposing Bobby's buttocks; desperate to cover his exposure, Bobby stuffs wadded up plastic into the seat. When he returns to the office, he stumbles into a group of garment buyers who have just dismissed Jack's latest fashions. They mistake Bobby's kludged together outfit for a radical new design, and are eager to make huge orders for the jeans, which are dubbed "So Fine." Following is a commercial for the titular jeans, featuring models dancing and flashing their buttocks to the camera, interspersed with shots of women wearing a production version of the jeans (with the buttocks individually exposed through clear plastic windows) and driving men to distraction.
A brief time passes. Bobby and his father are preparing to repay Eddie the $1,500,000, the success of the So Fine jeans having secured their fortune. Bobby has returned to his professorship at Chippenango State College, and Jack has a meeting with Eddie at his house. Before Jack arrives, however, Bobby's shoe (which was previously hidden in a plant) falls and strikes him in the head. Reading the sole ("Chippenango Campus Shoes"), Eddie realizes that it must belong to Bobby. Lira flees from the house to find Bobby, and Eddie rushes after her. When Jack arrives, the maid (Angela Pietropinto) tells him the situation, and Jack joins the chase.
Lira is the first to find Bobby, and they make plans to flee the country, but first attend a campus performance of Giuseppe Verdi's opera, Otello. During the performance, the soprano performing Desdemona (Judith Cohen) is struck ill, and Lira (whose own operatic ambitions had been frustrated by marrying Eddie) steps into the role, performing magnificently. Eddie arrives, and knocks out the tenor playing Otello and assumes the role. As he joins Lira on the stage, Eddie also sings splendidly, but the subtitles do not reflect the action of the play, but rather that Eddie is there for revenge, to kill Lira and Bobby. Eddie and Lira struggle back and forth across the stage, singing all the while, until Jack arrives, and swings down on sand bags, knocking out Eddie. Much like with the So Fine jeans, the audience mistakes the performance for a bold revision of Verdi's original and applauds wildly.
Later, Bobby and Lira are being propelled down the canals of Venice by a gondolier, and Bobby is reading a personal annulment of Lira and Eddie's marriage signed by Pope John Paul II (a farcical "marrigisimus annulum") and the camera pans to a gelato cart vendor serving a group of children. As the vendor turns away, it is seen that she is wearing So Fine jeans, and as she walks away, the credits roll.Ryan O'Neal - Bobby Fine
Jack Warden - Jack Fine
Mariangela Melato - Lira
Richard Kiel - Eddie
Fred Gwynne - Chairman Lincoln
Mike Kellin - Sam Schlotzman
David Rounds - Professor McCarthy
According to the film’s producer, Michael Lobell, the idea for So Fine originated with himself, from his firsthand experience in the garment industry, first through his father, who manufactured dresses, and then through his own experience as a successful designer of clothing in the Mod style.
Lobell explained that he went to Bergman with the story idea, which then led to Bergman penning the script. Bergman, for his part, told William Wolf, of New York, that after being taken on a tour of the Garment District, he was taken by the chaotic nature of the environment, and imagined how a college professor like himself (Bergman holds a PhD in American history) would have managed if forced into such hectic surroundings, and the plot developed from the juxtaposition of a crazed world with an ordered personality.
So Fine also received positive pre-release attention due to the main plot device, the see-through buttocks of the jeans (which, in the film, become a mass hysteria and take the nation by storm). Costume designer Santo Loquasto said he’d intentionally constructed the design as a sendup of those coming out of “Fashion Avenue,” the stretch of Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, which runs through the traditional Garment District. In one scene, an elaborate commercial for the jeans, choreographed by Grover Dale, plays out. Loquasto had designed a custom set, wildly illuminated and featuring dozens of models in the see-through jeans, arching towards the camera. Loquasto amusedly observed that despite he and the filmmakers intentionally aiming to be outrageous, he was amazed to regularly return from the set and find television commercials he felt were even more so.
Wolf reporting in a piece published several months before So Fine’s release, visited the Filmways Studio and found the pairing of Richard Kiel and Mariangela Melato entertaining in a scene he viewed. Wolf’s article highly praised Bergman, considering him (along with Albert Brooks, another active comedy filmmaker of the 1980s) one of the few positive contributors to the comedy genre in film.
Bergman’s previous writing credits were for Blazing Saddles (which Bergman initially sold to Warner Bros. as Tex X, a play on Malcolm X) and The In-Laws, neither of which Bergman had felt positively about, yet both of which were commercial and critical successes. In a New York interview, Bergman said that after his experiences with Blazing Saddles and The In-Laws, he was sure that So Fine was going to be a big hit, so he decided that he would direct the film, in order to be certain that what he thought of as a surefire screenplay would transition to the big screen with his vision intact. Pre-screenings were positive, but two weeks after the film’s release (on September 25, 1981), Bergman was disappointed to see the film gone from the theaters. Bergman attributed the failure to the high-brow styling of his comedy being mismatched with its low-brow trappings.
O'Neal was cast at the suggestion of Warner Bros. His fee was a reported $2 million.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Janet Maslin, then of The New York Times, complimented the casting, expressing that O’Neal and Melato might seem odd selections, but both ably filled their respective roles; Maslin also admired the scenes between O’Neal and Warden, observing the chemistry between the two actors. She did find female characterizations disappointing, contrasting the sexually predatory nature of the female characters with the score-keeping attitudes of the male protagonists. However, Tom Shales of The Washington Post was summarily unimpressed by So Fine's satire, considering its main gimmick (the see-through jeans) topically ripe for satire, but ultimately wasted and imbecilic. Shales had particularly harsh words for the film's two leads, O'Neal and Melato for, respectively, a one-note acting style and a weathered, scrawny appearance.
So Fine was filmed on a budget of $9,800,000, and in its three weeks in theaters, grossed a total of $9,381,808, and was considered a financial loss.
In 1996, Joanne Slokevage filed a patent for a “garment rear,” which described cut-out areas on the rear of various bottom garments (pants, shorts, dresses, etc.), which a closure-secured fabric flap would cover or uncover, as the wearer chose. The patent was eventually rejected in Federal Circuit Court as unregistrable. In Slokevage's patent filing, a non-patent citation is included referencing So Fine.
Prior to Slokevage’s patent filing and publication, in a pre-release interview, Lobell said that neither he, nor Bergman, nor Warner Bros (the distributor of So Fine) had immediate intentions to manufacture the jeans from the film, he did note that between the producer, director, and distributor, they collectively held a copyright on the design, and had consulted with manufacturers. However, there is no record of any dispute between the three parties and Slokevage with respect to patent D410689.