A “Wonderful” Love Triangle Movie

Hello everyone!  It’s back to the 80’s reviews, and what better movie to kick off with than “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987), directed by Howard Deutch. It has the old familiar set up of the hero being caught between two contrasting choices of girls. Roger Ebert probably summed up the concept best in his review, “it is not about whether the hero will get the girl, it is whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?”

Eric Stolz stars as Keith Nelson, an artsy teenage mechanic from a working class background. His best friend is a tomboyish drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and his dad Cliff (John Ashton), puts pressure on him to attend college, and get the education he never did, while Keith would much rather paint instead. He has a crush on the beautiful, seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). In a refreshing take on the normal procedure, Amanda comes from the same modest background as Watts and Keith, but as she hangs out with the “popular” crowd, this makes her “rich by association”.

After Amanda breaks up with her caddish boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), Keith wastes no time in asking her out. She accepts his offer, primarily out of spite for Hardy.  This eventually leads to Amanda being shunned by her snooty friends for daring to date outside the “in” crowd. Meanwhile, Watts has some issues of her own, as she has developed unrequited feelings for her best friend…

If you feel that the story that I’ve summarized sounds a little familiar, it’s because it was based the movie “Pretty in Pink” (1986), which preceded this movie by one year. It was not only directed by Howard Deutch, but was scripted by the king of 80’s teen movies, John Hughes. It’s worth noting that the stories are eeriely similar to each other. While “Pink” is about Molly Ringwald trying to choose between a smooth rich guy Andrew McCarthy and quirky best friend Jon Cryer, “Wonderful”  has essentially the exact same premise with the genders reversed.

When Hughes produced “Pretty in Pink”, his original intention was to have Molly Ringwald end up with Jon Cryer’s lovable goofball Duckie. However, the test audience for that film weren’t receptive to that ending, taking it as a sign that the rich and the poor social classes didn’t belong together. The ending was then changed to the one we all know, in which Ringwald ends up with McCarthy’s. It’s funny to note that had “Pink” ended up the way that Hughes originally envisioned it, it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t have “Wonderful”.

If I had to pick between “Pink” and “Wonderful” as being the better film, I’d ultimately have to choose the latter movie, as the supporting characters are more fleshed out and entertaining in my opinion. In “Wonderful”, we have  Duncan(Elias Koteas), a skinhead delinquent pal of Keith’s,who steals many of his scenes,  Laura (Maddie Corman), his annoying younger sister, and Ashton as the open-minded parent who just wants the best for his son.

As for the main trio of Stolz, Masterson and Thompson, they all pull off their respective roles with aplomb. Stolz is appealing as the man in the middle, Thompson pulls off the typical popular girl role with freshness, and Masterson shines as the friend who pines away from afar.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” rates as 4 stars our of a 5 star rating. Although it’s predictable and slow moving in parts, it ultimately captures the decisions of high school, and retains the typical Hughes charm that come from his teen movies. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was the last teen movie Hughes was involved in, before he decided to try his hand at making more adult themed pictures. Nevertheless, “Wonderful” ensures that Hughes’ teen movie period went out with not a fizzle, but with a bang.

If you enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out the movie, “Pretty in Pink”, or you can read my review of the film here! Until next time!

“Secret Admirer”- Possibly one of the Oddest Teen movies of the 80’s?

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!

“Sing Street” is a Fantastic Irish Musical Comedy

For my latest movie review, I’m going to critique a movie that was released a few months ago in my native country of Ireland, and features a copious amount of Irish actors and was filmed in Dublin- “Sing Street” (2016), directed by John Carney. It deviates from my usual reviews in that it’s a recent movie which takes place in the 1980’s, as opposed to being released in that decade. The movie has drawn comparisons to Alan Parker’s 1991 musical comedy, “The Commitments”, which is also a movie about a group of youths based in Dublin who put a band together. Despite both of them including actress Maria Doyle Kennedy in a supporting role, the plots of both flicks are vastly different.

The Plot in a Nutshell: The year is 1985. 15 year old Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) doesn’t have the most enviable home life. His parents, Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are constantly at each others’ throats. While his sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) copes by burying herself into her schoolwork,his college dropout brother Brendan  (Jack Reynor) smokes pot and makes wisecracks.  Due to the downsizing of the economy, Conor is transferred from his private school to Synge Street Christian Brothers School, a rough Catholic establishment. After running afoul of both schoolyard bullies and Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the school’s oppressive principal, Conor spies mysterious budding model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) from across the street. Willing to impress her, he offers her the chance to star in his band’s music video. The slight catch? The band doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless, Conor gathers a motley crew of musicians, who remarkably have all the skills needed to create a band. Guided by Brendan, he starts to write original songs for the group, now called “Sing Street” after their school, in a bid to distract himself from his crumbling domestic life. Along the way, he starts to become closer to Raphina, and he begins to embark on a path that he never quite anticipated…

Character/Actor Observations: For starters, the young ensemble cast was very expertly cast. I felt that all of the teenage band members had a natural presence, and that they would be the type of youths that I would run into on a daily basis. As someone who is used to seeing actors in their twenties and beyond portray teenagers on screen, it was refreshing to see real teenagers take on these roles. I especially liked the prominent relationship that Conor has with Brendan, as they reestablish the bond through their love of music. Reynor steals many of the scenes that he appears in, and has excellent brotherly chemistry with newcomer Walsh-Peelo. Lucy Boynton is well cast opposite Walsh-Peelo, and many of their scenes together were tinged with the appropriate amount of tenderness required.

My Favourite Scene in “Sing Street”: Two scenes vie for being my favourite in the movie. The first comes about when Sing Street are shooting their first music video, entitled “The Riddle of the Model” (definitely NOT inspired by Raphina). The video looks amateurish, exactly as if a group of kids had filmed it, with the band sporting garish costumes. The song is additionally catchy to boot!

The second scene appears much later in the movie, when Sing Street are scheduled to preform a concert in their school gym. Conor fantasizes about the whole school breaking out into a dance, to their song, “Drive it like you stole it”, clearly influenced by “Back to the Future”, with the students decked out in 1950’s attire, much like that movie. Beneath the humour, however, there is an undercurrent of sadness to this sequence, but it still manages to be entertaining and visually stunning to look at.

My Least Favourite Scene in “Sing Street”: If I’m being completely honest, I was on board with this film and the characters until the climax. Without giving too much away, I felt that the end didn’t quite mesh well with the rest of the movie, and frankly seemed a little rushed in my opinion. Some of you may hold different opinions on the ending, and I’d be interested to know how anyone feels regarding it.

Actors Before They were Famous: The jury’s still out on whether any of the young cast will amount to greater things in the future. However, it still contains supporting performances from many notable Irish actors, such as Aidan Gillen from acclaimed Irish gangster drama “Love/Hate”, and the aforementioned Maria Doyle Kennedy, who has appeared in such works as “Downton Abbey” and “Jupiter Ascending”.

Ratings and Recommendations : If you’re a fan of 80’s bands such as Duran Duran, The Clash, A-Ha and Hall and Oates, then I’d suggest watching this movie, as it makes for a trip down memory lane of sorts for those who grew up in the 1980’s. For those who were not as fortunate to grow up in that era, such as myself, it can give an insight to how people lived in Ireland in that period.

In summation, “Sing Street” receives a grand total of 4 and a half stars out of five. If you enjoyed this movie, I’d suggest watching some of John Carney’s other directorial projects, such as the Academy Award winning “Once” (2006), or 2013’s “Begin Again”, for some more tales of musical triumphs and pitfalls. Highly recommended!

 

Teen Flick can buy Charm, if not Love

The next flick I’ll be reviewing is the 1987 teen comedy, “Can’t Buy Me Love”. I was inspired to watch this movie for three reasons- 1) The awesome 2010 contemporary teen flick, “Easy A”, which paid homage to the famous lawn mower ending scene, 2) the fact that it was referenced on “Community”, and 3) that it stars a young Patrick Dempsey, who I admit to having something of a crush on during his tenure as Doctor McSteamy on “Grey’s Anatomy”. So what better reason than to check this movie out? Well, maybe because it’s named after a Beatles song!

The premise:  Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) is just your average, stereotypical nerd who is ignored by the popular crowd despite being sweet, smart and witty. The object of his affection is  spunky cheerleader Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson). When Cindy spills red wine down a rather costly coat of her mother’s, she frantically struggles to come up with the funds to replace it. Enter Ronald with a proposal: he’ll supply Cindy with the cash she needs from his lawn cutting business. Naturally, this comes with strings attached – in a bid to make himself popular, he wants to “rent” Cindy for a month, while masquerading as her boyfriend, after which they will mutually “break up”.

Cindy sees no other choice but to agree to the charade, and soon she’s sprucing up his wardrobe, giving him a whole new trendy look. However, while his popularity soars, it causes him to alienate his old pal, Kenneth (Courtney Gains), in favour of the preppy kids. Will Ron come to his senses in time? No prizes for guessing how this one will pan out…

While “Can’t Buy Me Love” is an ultimately enjoyable flick, it isn’t one of the more memorable movies of the 1980’s , but manages a to be a fun and formulaic teen comedy nonetheless. Some moments which I enjoyed include Cindy and Ron growing to understand each other better, the famous lawnmower ending and Ron making a surprisingly passionate speech to the geeks and the jocks over how they all used to hang out together, irregardless of social status.

Despite these positives,  I found it difficult to sympathise with the lead characters, as for the majority of the running time, they were only preoccupied with their status at school. Even though it was inevitable that they would change their ways before too long, I found myself getting frustrated with both Cindy and Ron, wanting them to reach the same conclusion as I had minutes beforehand.

Patrick Dempsey is credible more as a geek than a wannabe cool kid to me, but he does what he can with his part. He has decent chemistry with Amanda Peterson, who is perhaps best known for this flick. Sadly, she died of an accidental drug overdose in July of this year. Watching this movie, it’s hard to believe that she was only 16 when it was made.

My general consensus of the film is that it’s an entertaining, yet predictable romp, which gets two and a half stars out of five from me. If you liked this, then check out the 2003 movie,”Love don’t Cost a Thing” which is a remake of this flick (and not the other way round, as “Community” would have you believe).