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80s Night Bitches!


Alright folks, I promised something different from last week, and after three weeks of E3, as awesome as it was, I’m sure you’re ready for a change of pace. Welcome to the first edition of 80s Night Bitches! Everyone loves 80s movies, except for Quentin Tarantino, but he’s wrong. Now everyone knows Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.… So, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to look at some less well known 80s flicks. Hidden gems that should be better known, but for whatever reason aren’t. We’re going to start with the John Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful. Some Kind of Wonderful is something of the dark horse among Hughes films. It’s the last in his sequence of 1980s teen comedies, but it doesn’t feature any of his regulars from the “brat pack.” A fact I personally think works in its favor.

On the surface, Some Kind of Wonderful is the same movie as Pretty in Pink with the genders reversed, and there’s a bit of truth to that. Despite its popularity, John Hughes was unhappy with Pretty in Pink. The original ending was disliked by test audiences, so it was changed against his wishes. As a response, he wrote Some Kind of Wonderful, once again teaming up with director Howard Deutch. One could argue that Some Kind of Wonderful is Pretty in Pink done right, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Because, despite coming afterwards and being the less well known/less popular movie, Some Kind of Wonderful is the better film.

Keith (Eric Stoltz) is an aspiring artist and high school senior who works part time as an auto-mechanic after school. His best friend is short-haired tomboy Watts, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, who steals every scene she’s in. Being an artist and a drummer who come from a working-class neighborhood, Keith and Watts are not part of the in-crowd. Keith is in love with popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson) who is dating bad boy and all-around douchebag Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer). Amanda doesn’t know Keith exists. Watts is subject to rumors that she’s a lesbian because of how she looks, but she’s actually in love with Keith. Keith of course is completely oblivious to the fact that Watts is clearly (almost painfully so) in love with him. Hijinks ensue.

What really makes Some Kind of Wonderful stand out (at least to me) is three main things. A large part of it is the casting. As I said earlier, this film has a different cast than the kids who usually work with John Hughes, and that works in its favor. The fact that it doesn’t star any of the “brat pack” helps it stand on its own and draws less comparison to Pretty in Pink than it probably would otherwise. Ironically, Hughes wanted Molly Ringwald to play Amanda, but she turned the role down because she didn’t want to be typecast. Stoltz and Masterson have a lot of chemistry in this film and they play really well off each other. Masterson’s playful tone combined with the clear and painful frustration of being in-love with your oblivious best friend makes the love triangle feel believable. It stands in stark contrast to Jon Cryer’s Duckie, who can be off putting at times. Watts on the other hand, is very easy to root for, and when she clashes with Keith over his fascination with Amanda, it comes off as genuine and not cringe inducing.

The second is how is the two major subversions of typical 80s high school movies. It would have been so easy to make Amanda the class rich bitch, and most films probably would, but she’s not. For starters, she’s not rich, she comes from the working class, just like Keith and Watts. All her fancy clothes and jewelry? Those are all things she either borrows from her rich friends or she’s given by her jerk boyfriend. Amanda is actually a kind girl who hangs out with the wrong crowd because of her own insecurities and has to learn that her own self-worth isn’t based on what she owns or how others perceive her. It’s not only a great piece of character development; it’s a great lesson that still resonates today because it’s true.

The other major subversion is the ending. Most 80s teen films end with the guy finally getting the girl followed by the classic big damn big kiss. If the writer is feeling generous, the romantic runner up gets paired with a minor character at the last minute, cut, print, wrap. That’s what happened with Pretty in Pink; Andie ends up with Blane, Duckie hooks up with hot random blond girl we’ve never seen before and test audiences rejoiced. If this was following regular conventions, Keith would end up with Amanda, Watts would get paired off with some cute guy who appears in literally no other scenes, and this would constitute a happy ending. That’s not what happens here, and it’s a better film because of it. Keith doesn’t end up with Amanda, but for all the right reasons. Amanda realizes she needs to learn to stand on her own, becoming a stronger person, and Keith finally realizes he’s in love with Watts. That’s right; the tomboyish, short haired drummer girl wins. Personally, I find it refreshing to see a character that isn’t considered “conventionally attractive,” win for once. That’s not to suggest that Mary Stuart Masterson isn’t good looking in this film, the fact is that she’s nothing short of gorgeous. However, she doesn’t act or dress in a way that would be considered “proper” for the era. But Watt’s doesn’t care how others see her, which is part of the strength of her character. Plus, it gives us the great following line. “Ray, this is 1987. Did you know that a girl can be whatever she wants to be?” To me, the fact that Watts is the one who comes out on top romantically is what hits home the real message of this film, and what the message of Pretty in Pink was supposed to be. It’s better to be with people who truly love you for who you are, then to pretend to be something you’re not to please others. And that’s why Watt’s deserves to win; she honestly loves Keith for who he is. Amanda is a great character, despite being set up as the alpha bitch (to quote TV Tropes) she’s actually sympathetic, and by the end of the movie I think she’s honestly developed feelings for Keith. But she also recognizes that Watt’s is really in love with him, and that her love is much deeper. She’s also smart enough to figure out that deep down, even if he doesn’t figure it out until the last scene in the movie, Keith is really in love with Watts.

The final main point that makes this film great is how it manages to subvert the classic 80s high school movie tropes, while also playing them completely straight. It weaves in and out of them in a way that few other films manage, and none that I can think of right off the top of my head. Despite the mentioned subversions, Some Kind of Wonderful still includes such classic tropes as: a bratty younger sibling, a jerk with a hidden heart of gold who starts out antagonistic but ends up befriending the hero, in this case it’s a punk/metalhead named Duncan who bonds with Keith in detention, an overbearing but well-meaning parent who just doesn’t understand their kid, completely useless high school teachers, and a rich upper class snob with precisely zero redeeming qualities. It’s also full of what you expect in a John Hughes film, snappy dialogue, sharp one-liners (usually dished out by Watts), realistic teenagers dealing with real problems, and lessons about growing up.

Despite its status as the proverbial black sheep, I personally think Some Kind of Wonderful is one of John Hughes best films, on par with The Breakfast Club and just below Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As the last of his Hughes string of teen movies, Some Kind of Wonderful goes out on a high note. Fun, funny, and full of heart, Some Kind of Wonderful deserves to be more popular than it is, and I honestly don’t know why it’s not. Maybe it’s because people simply wright it off as a Pretty in Pink remake, which isn’t fair. Because while yes, it’s basically the same story, it’s got better characters, stronger performances, funnier lines, and a much better ending; all of which make Some Kind of Wonderful the better film. If you love 80s movies and you’ve never seen this, go watch it right now. It’ not hard to find, and it’s got a commentary track by Howard Deutch and Lea Thompson, who ended up getting married in 1989, that’s worth listening to. They’re still together, making them the (incredibly) rare Hollywood marriage that's lasted.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back to 1987, I know I certainly have. We’ll most likely be back to video games next week, but this won’t be our last trip to the 80s, it's too much fun. Have a great weekend, see you guys next week.

 

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