Greetings and salutations, everyone! My apologies for my prolonged absence from this blog. I hope to remedy this problem with my next selection of reviews in the foreseeable future, so please stay tuned for more 80’s content!
I have seen my far share of corny movies in my time. Some can be charming in their ridiculousness.However, some can seem to have all the makings of a typical 80’s teen romp, yet attempt to do do more than its material knows what to do with. This brings us to today’s subject: “Secret Admirer” (1985). The plot synopsis appears to be rather straightforward at first glance, but as the movie progresses, you’ll find that it’s anything but simple!
The Plot in a Nutshell: Michael Ryan (C. Thomas Howell) is your standard 80’s high school student who is infatuated with the blonde, seemingly unattainable Deborah Anne Fimple (Kelly Preston), while his brunette platonic friend Toni (Lori Loughlin) harbors a covert crush on him from afar. When Michael receives an anonymous letter in his locker, his buddy Roger (Casey Siemaszko) convinces Michael that Deborah Anne is the sender, despite her already having a college boyfriend in Steve (Scott McGinnis). He decides to reciprocate by sending Debbie a letter of his own. However, he proves to be less than a skilled writer, so Toni secretly doctors it before delivering it to Debbie, who instantly becomes smitten with Michael.
At this point, you’d think you know what to expect from a movie in this genre, right? Well, not so with this one! You see, the love letter ends up in a bag belonging to Michael’s father, George (Cliff DeYoung), who is taking a night school business class from Debbie’s mother Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor Young ). Naturally, George mistakenly thinks that the letter is from Elizabeth, and they engage in one of those comedic tropes I’ve always loathed, in which two characters talk about two completely different things, but somehow think that they’re discussing the same subject, which is typically laden with a string of sexual innuendos. It would be easier if they could just figure out the misunderstanding and sort it out, but then we wouldn’t have “hysterical” shenanigans!
Meanwhile, Debbie and Michael start to date and hit it off, much to Toni’s jealousy. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Debbie’s tough police officer father, Lou (Fred Ward) uncovers the letter in his wife’s purse, where Debbie had previously hidden it, and suspecting the worst, seeks out the help of George’s wife Connie (Dee Wallace Stone) in order to catch out their offending partners in the act. How’s this one going to pan out?
Actor/Character Observations: Lori Loughlin, as Toni, delivers possibly one of the more rounded performances in this picture, and is likable enough that you want to see her get the guy. C. Thomas Howell is credible enough in this movie, although wooden in places, and Kelly Preston is convincing enough for the most part as the stereotypical blonde popular girl. The adult actors do try to make the material they have to work with plausible, but it comes off as being preposterous.
My Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: Although many scenes in this movie are way too outlandish and over the top to take seriously, especially those between the adults, there are a few genuine, tender moments between the teenagers, especially the conversations between Michael and Toni, which compensates slightly for the more hammy and forced hiumours involving the adults. The actors have just the right amount of chemistry together which makes it seem believable that they could be close friends.
My Least Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: One scene which made me cringe, in addition to the aforementioned “double meaning conversation scene”, was a confrontation between the parents late in the movie, where a tense meeting during a card game gradually segues into a full scale brawl between Lou and George, culminating in tables being overturned and food splattering everywhere, which is obviously designed to be funny, but mostly comes off as being awkward and try hard. In general, many of the parent’s scenes feels as though it belongs in a separate movie involving cheating spouses and adultery, and not as a side plot to a light-hearted teen comedy.
Actors Before They were Famous: A few years after this movie, Lori Loughlin got her big break from portraying Aunt Becky in “Full House”, which incidentically had an episode play out like the plot of this movie. The late Cory Haim appears in a bit part as Michael’s bratty kid brother, Jeff, who by stealing the letter, sends most of the plot into motion. Finally, Casey Siemaszko would pop up in “Back to the Future”, which was released a month after “Secret Admirer”, as one of Biff’s cronies.
Ratings and Recommendations: I award “Secret Admirer” a total of 2 out of 5 stars. While it’s generally an inoffensive, harmless teen movie, some of the characters aren’t that likable or relatable, with the exception of Toni, and many scenes just feel gratuitous, as though they’re present merely to increase the movie’s running time. Even though I gave “Can’t Buy Me Love”(1987) some flack for being too formulaic when I critiqued it, at least I can give it some credit for knowing what kind of story it wanted to tell.
In my opinion, “Secret Admirer” might have been better off if it had focused solely on the teenagers and their romantic entanglements, and not so much on the parents. I may not have enjoyed this movie to the same extent as other teen movies, and while it certainly isn’t the most memorable, you’ll enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of it all if you don’t analyse it too much. Until next time!