Some Kind of Wonderful (1987, Howard Deutch)

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Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Teenager Keith Nelson wants to go out with a girl called Amanda, but doesn’t know that his best friend is in love with him…

Kids:

* Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is a tomboy who loves drumming. John Hughes named the character after drummer Charlie Watts – Rolling Stones reference #1. The best friend of lead character Keith, she’s the Duckie in this rehash of Pretty in Pink’s storyline. And like Duckie, the fact she’s in love with her BFF is obvious to everyone but the friend. So Watts is hurt when Keith develops an obsession with a girl called Amanda. However, when he gets a date, Watts puts her feelings to one side and helps him out. She gives him kissing practise, then acts as a chauffeur for the big night, but she finds it all very difficult. Thankfully for her – rather conveniently for the story – Keith then realises he’s in love with her. That’s nice, isn’t it?

* Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) is a working-class kid who has a part-time job as a mechanic. John Hughes named the character after guitarist Keith Richards – Rolling Stones reference #2. We first see him walking towards an oncoming train: like Pretty in Pink’s Andie living on the wrong side of the tracks, it’s one of director Howard Deutch’s more on-the-nose moments. Keith’s dad is pressuring him to make a decision about which college he wants to go to, but he’s more interested in painting than academia. He also fancies a student called Amanda. So when she’s given detention for skipping school, he deliberately gets one too in order to spend time with her. Sadly for him, she gets out of it – but while there he makes a new friend when he bonds with troubled bully Duncan. Keith later asks Amanda out and she says yes. But then her twatty ex, Hardy, comes to him and, pretending to be magnanimous, invites Keith and Amanda to a house party. It’s actually a rouse, as Keith later finds out: the plan is to get Keith to the party and beat him up. But Keith chooses to go anyway (“I want to stand up to him!”). On date night, he takes Amanda to a posh restaurant, then an art museum (where’s he hung a painting of her – sweet or creepy?), then an empty outdoor auditorium. At the latter, he tells her he knows the night is a set-up. But she reveals that her feelings are genuine and they kiss. They then go to the party, where Hardy is openly nasty (“Did she do you?”). Keith attacks him, so Hardy orders his hangers-on to take Keith outside. When Amanda intercedes, Hardy says he’ll let Keith off if Amanda literally begs him for forgiveness… But then Duncan and his punky friends show up, and Hardy’s hard-on goes limp. “I’m here to wipe the floor with your ass,” says Duncan. “I know it and you know it.” Keith and Amanda leave the party, and Keith – for… some… reason – has an epiphany and realises it’s actually Watts he wants to be with. Amanda doesn’t seem to mind. He chases after his best friend and they kiss…

* Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) is the most beautiful girl at the school, which doesn’t seem to be the same Shermer High as earlier films. John Hughes named the character after the song Miss Amanda Jones – Rolling Stones reference #3. (It’s an album track on 1967’s Between the Buttons.) She oozes sex. The word cute could have been coined for her. When she’s given detention for skipping school, she bamboozles balding, middle-aged teacher Mr Saunders with her inner Lolita and flirts her way out of it. We later see her in the locker room – and both Watts and the camera are stunned by how good she looks. When Keith asks her out, she’s just dumped cheating boyfriend Hardy so says yes. She genuinely likes Keith, even though he comes to think she’s conning him… Molly Ringwald turned the role down, wanting to spread her wings from her mentor’s movies. John Hughes responded by never speaking to her again. At first, Lea Thompson also passed on the role, but then her latest film – misunderstood masterpiece Howard the Duck – stunk up the box office, so she thought again. Her involvement created something of an oddity for the characters of Amanda and Keith: two years earlier, Thompson and Eric Stoltz had been cast as mother and son in Back to the Future. During filming, Thompson started going out with the director, Howard Deutch. They later married and are still together.

* Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) is Amanda’s boyfriend and is a total sleazeball. He essentially replaces James Spader in the Pretty in Pink formula.

* Cindy Nelson (Candace Cameron) is Keith’s youngest sister. She’s wise before her years, kinda like Sam Baker’s smartass brother in Sixteen Candles.

* Laura Nelson (Maddie Corman), Keith’s other sibling, has a rough-and-tumble rivalry with her brother. But when she overhears Hardy revealing his plan to beat up Keith, she’s worried and quickly tells him.

* Duncan (Elias Koteas) is a school thug: a skinhead with a leather jacket, who smokes and is rude to authority figures. We first see him taunting Watts for her androgynous appearance and squaring up to Keith. However, he and Keith later end up in the same detention and form a friendship by showing each other the doodles they’re sketching. (Keith’s are on paper. Duncan’s are carved into the desk.) On the night of Keith’s date, Duncan and his pals help out by arranging for the couple to have after-hours access to both an art gallery and the Hollywood Bowl. It’s as contrived as anything – and you see it coming a mile off – but it’s still a punch-the-air moment when Duncan shows up at the party to support his new friend. Koteas later played Casey Jones in two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films.

* Amanda has a couple of richie friends (Laura Leigh Hughes and Molly Hagan). We soon learn that, unlike them, Amanda doesn’t come from money. The girls have deigned to allow Amanda into their clique because she was dating Hardy, and they drop her when she agrees to go out with Keith.

* Ray (Scott Coffey) is a dopey lad who fancies Watts. She uses him to try (unsuccessfully) to make Keith jealous.

Adults:

* Carol Nelson (Jane Elliot) is Keith’s mum.

* Cliff Nelson (John Ashton), Keith’s father, is eager for his son to go to college. If he’d gone, he says, he wouldn’t be selling tyres six days a week. When Keith keeps evading the discussion, Cliff even goes to the school to talk to the careers counsellor himself. He then blows a gasket when he find out Keith has spent his college fund on earrings for Amanda, but Keith wins him round by saying he has to live his own life.

* The gym teacher who gives Amanda detention – and later throws Hardy out of the girls’ changing room – is played by Lee Garlington (the waitress in the Seinfeld pilot, Elena Rhyzkov in Sneakers, the woman who has an affair with Joey’s dad in Friends, Xander’s mum in Buffy, Toby’s lawyer in The West Wing, and many, many other roles).

* There are some guys who have a game of cards with Watts in a car park. One of them is played by Jonathan Schmock (the maitre d’ from Ferris Bueller) and in the same scene Watts quotes The Breakfast Club (“Mess with the bull, you get the horns!”).

Music: The opening titles play under a driving bit of incidental music, which Watts appears to be drumming along with. Some later score sounds like proto Stone Roses, so melodic is the bassline. Watts goes to a nightclub, where a band is playing on stage. The track Miss Amanda Jones is used for a montage of the main characters getting ready for the night of the party; a cover by The March Violets is also heard. An insipid version of Can’t Help Falling in Love With You by Lick the Tins is played over the end credits.

Beatles references: None. The Stones win this one.

Review: “Then I’m 19, then I’m 20. When does my life belong to me?” A remake of Pretty in Pink, with the gender roles reversed and the original pick-the-best-friend ending restored. Sadly, it falls flat on its po-faced face. It’s just not as funny as the earlier John Hughes scripts – or as touching, or as moving, or as exciting, or as engaging. The film has considerably less zip too, thanks to Howard Deutch’s meat-and-potatoes direction. It’s not without merit. The female characters are generally interesting and well played, especially Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts. But it fades from the memory very quickly.

Six hen houses out of 10

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, John Hughes)

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Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Ferris Bueller decides to skip school and take his girlfriend and his best friend for a day out in Chicago…

Kids:

* Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is a teenager whose biggest gripe in life is that, when he asked for a car, his parents bought him a computer. He’s clever, handsome, charming and has both unshakeable confidence and *preternatural* good luck. Knowing that his time at high school is drawing to a close, he decides to play truant one final time and have a day out with his pals. So he tricks his parents into thinking he’s ill, then calls his friend Cameron – who is actually unwell – and guilt-trips him into coming over. He then phones the school and pretends that his girlfriend’s grandma has died, therefore getting Sloane out of class for the day. After borrowing Cameron’s father’s car, Ferris and Cameron collect Sloane and the trio drive the 15 miles or so into Chicago. Ferris has a hectic day planned, and in fact their itinerary would probably be impossible to achieve in the seven or so hours the story gives them. Nevertheless, the characters visit Sears Tower, then the world’s tallest building, and look down from 1,353 feet. They watch the goings-on at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They blag their way into a posh restaurant called Chez Quis. They see part of a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, where Ferris catches a foul ball. They visit the Art Institute of Chicago. And Ferris gatecrashes the annual Von Steuben Day Parade: he boards a float of Germanic women and mimes along to two songs. The latter gets thousands of people dancing, and brings the day to a rousing climax. After dropping Cameron and Sloane off, Ferris has to race home before his parents. He runs through gardens and other people’s houses, and is safely in bed when his mum and dad walk into his room… Throughout the movie, Ferris directly addresses the camera. Matthew Broderick had been talking to the audience in a Neil Simon play on Broadway immediately before filming, so was comfortable with the conceit. Hughes once said that, short of a 15-year-old James Stewart, Broderick was the only actor who could pull off Ferris’s charisma. (Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Michael J Fox and the nearly man of John Hughes teen comedies, John Cusack, were also considered.)

* Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) is Ferris’s sister. She knows his illness is faked, and becomes increasingly irritated with the fact he can get away with anything. Later, because everyone believes Ferris’s lie, a spontaneous ‘Save Ferris’ campaign strikes up at school and pushes Jeanie over the edge. In a jealous rage, she resolves to catch her brother out. The decision comes in a rather shaky tracking shot – the only time in the film that the camerawork is anything less than exemplary. She heads home and stumbles across a prowler, so knocks him out and calls the cops (who ask after Ferris’s wellbeing). The police eventually arrive, but arrest Jeanie for wasting their time. At the police station, she encounters a drug-addled teenager, who she initially hates. However, his plain talking makes her realise that her obsession with Ferris is unhealthy. So she later covers for Ferris when he’s finally caught skipping school by their headmaster.

* Simone Adamley (Kristy Swanson) is the girl in Ferris’s class who tells the teacher why he’s absent – “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night…” Swanson was actually cast as another student: the one who speaks to Ferris on a payphone. But when the opportunity arose to shoot that scene quickly on location, another actress was used, so Swanson was given this tongue-twisting cameo. (She’d been in Pretty in Pink earlier that year.)

* Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) is Ferris’s best friend, but has a lot of issues. As Ferris says, “Cameron is so tight, if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.” When the film begins, Cameron is ill in bed. But then Ferris calls and convinces him to come round. (From this point on, aside from the very occasional sniff, he shows no sign at all of being under the weather!) Once at Ferris’s house, he helps in the ruse to get Sloane out of school by putting on a gruff voice, phoning the principle and pretending to be her father. Cameron’s father, meanwhile, owns a rare, gleaming, red, 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. (Value in 1986: $350,000. One sold for $16.8m in 2015.) Despite Cameron’s nervous reticence, Ferris borrows it for the day – he promises to drive home backwards to hide any additional miles on the clock. When at the art gallery, Cameron stares at Georges Seurat’s pointillism masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884, and is affected by a child in the image. The closer he looks, the less he sees. When he and Sloane later have a heart-to-heart about their futures, it’s clear he’s at a crossroads: “What are you interested in?” she asks. “Nothing,” he says, with a knowing smile. “Me neither,” she laughs. Later, as the gang drive home, Cameron learns that the Ferrari’s speedometer has increased from “126 and halfway between three and four tenths” to 301.7. He freaks out and goes into a catatonic state. Concerned, Ferris and Sloane take him to a swimming pool – we never learn whose house it is – but he numbly topples into the water and sinks to the bottom. After a terrified Ferris dives in to save him, Cameron shrugs off his malaise and admits he fell into the pool as a joke. They all go back to Cameron’s house and attempt to rectify the car’s mileage by driving it in reverse with its wheels lifted off the ground. Of course, it doesn’t work. And in frustration with his domineering father, Cameron kicks the car so hard it crashes through a window and falls into a ravine. But it’s been an epiphany for him: he knows he needs to take the blame and stand up to his dad… The role of Cameron was offered to The Breakfast Club’s Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall, who each turned it down. Alan Ruck got the job and had recently been in a Broadway play with Broderick, which helped with the characters’ friendship here. A few years earlier, he’d auditioned to play Bender in The Breakfast Club.

* Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) is Ferris’s girlfriend, who colludes with him to fake a dead grandparent so she can have the day off too. At one point, Ferris asks Sloane to marry him, but she balks at the idea as they’re so young. She also has a touching, platonic connection with Cameron. After Cameron’s catatonia, Sloane asks whether he watched her get undressed: he smirks. Molly Ringwald asked to play the role, but Hughes reckoned it was too small a part for his muse. It might also have been that he wanted someone more classically elegant for the part.

* An unnamed teenager in police station (Charlie Sheen) acts as a therapist for Jeanie when she’s arrested: “What do you care if your brother ditches school?” Jennifer Grey had recently worked with Sheen on Soviet-paranoia movie Red Dawn, so suggested him for this cameo role. He reportedly didn’t sleep the night before to help with the character’s spaced-out look and demeanour.

Adults:

* Katie and Tom Bueller (Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward) are the loving but gullible parents of Ferris and Jeanie (and, as filmed, two other kids – but they were completely excised in editing!). She works as an estate agent; he’s a businessman in the city. Katie nips home at one point to check on her ‘sick’ son. She creeps into his room and sees him sleeping soundly – it’s actually a mannequin and an audio recording of snoring. Tom is actually at Chez Quis at the same time as his son, but never sees him. They later have another near-miss in a traffic jam. In real life, Pickett and Ward became a couple during production and later married.

* The school’s economics teacher (Ben Stein) has a droll, dead, lifeless voice. When reading out the register, he gets stuck twice when no one answers: firstly on “Bueller… Bueller… Bueller…”, then on “Frye… Frye… Frye…” He later gives a flat, uninspiring lecture on what George Bush Snr called voodoo economics. The actor improvised the scene.

* Edward R Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is the dean of students at Ferris’s school, which is never named but presumably meant to be the same institution we saw in Hughes’s earlier films. When Ferris doesn’t show up for lessons, Rooney calls Mrs Bueller and admonishes her for his nine absent days. However, as he’s telling her, the number on his computer screen changes from nine to two: Ferris is at home, hacking into the school’s network. (Maybe he learnt how to do it from watching WarGames.) Rooney is determined to trap Ferris in his lie, and leaves school to track Ferris down. After trying a local bar, where he accidentally confronts a woman who looks like Ferris from behind (and misses seeing Ferris on TV at a ball game), he goes to the Bueller house. He tries to break in, but the family dog attacks him. After poisoning the pooch with flowers, Rooney sneaks into the house – but so does Jeanie, and the two come face to face in the kitchen. Jeanie screams and kicks him in the face. In a sublime bit of editing trickery, she runs all the way upstairs before he hits the floor. At last he rumbles Ferris, finding him trying to creep in before his parents see him – but Jeanie comes to her brother’s rescue. Dejected, Rooney leaves. However, his car has been towed away so he has to catch the school bus… Jeffrey Jones had played the inspiration for the character – the Emperor in 1984 movie Amadeus – so Hughes simply asked him to play the modern version.

* Grace (Edie McClurg) is Rooney’s off-kilter secretary. We first see her finding numerous forgotten pencils in her bouffant. Hughes cast McClurg again the following year, giving her a cameo-with-punchline in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

* An English teacher (Del Close) is giving a very pretentious lecture that’s boring the fuck out of Sloane when…

* …Florence Sparrow (Virginia Capers), the ridiculously named school nurse, arrives to tell Sloane the ‘news’ that her grandmother has died.

* The parking attendant in Chicago (Richard Edson) works for a company called A1 EZ OK Park. Ferris questions whether he can speak English because he looks vaguely foreign. “What country do you think this is?” he replies. Despite assuring Cameron that he’s a professional, he doesn’t park the Ferrari safely. Instead, he and a pal steal it for the day and drive recklessly round the city.

* The maître d’ of Chez Quis (Jonathan Schmock) is a snobby buffoon, who doesn’t react well when Ferris claims to be Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chiacgo. So Ferris uses a Hustle-style con involving phone lines to trick him into giving them a table.

* A singing telegram (Stephanie Blake) arrives at the Bueller household, dressed as a nurse and surrounded by other well-wishers. “I heard that you were feeling ill,” she sings. “Headache, fever and a chill. I came to help restore your pluck, cos the nurse who likes to–” Jeanie then slams the door in her face.

* A driver of a school bus (Dee Dee Rescher) offers Rooney a lift home during the end credits.

Close-ups: There are numerous examples of John Hughes’s love of storytelling through close-ups of inanimate objects. My favourites come when Rooney calls both the Peterson and Frye households to check on the cover story. In each instance, when we cut to the house all we see is a close-up of the answerphone. Sloane’s is surrounded by make-up, sunglasses and the colour pink; Cameron’s by medicine bottles. We don’t see wide shots of the room because the close-up tells us all we need to know.

Music: Terrific. The pumping electro-bass of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 scores Ferris’s lecture to camera about how to fake an illness. There are some really witty pieces of incidental music. Check out the early cue when we’re cutting between Ferris and Cameron talking on the phone. The former is having a tropical drink on a sun lounger, so the music is perky and summery; when we cut to the latter, who’s sick in bed, the tune turns dark and ominous. The kooky, catchy Oh Yeah by Yello is used twice: when we first see the Ferrari and over the end credits. The Flowerpot Men’s Beat City scores Ferris, Cameron and Sloane driving into Chicago. The Star Wars fanfare plays when the parking guys are racing around in the Ferrari. During the parade, Ferris mimes along to Wayne Newton’s Danke Schoen and the Beatles’ cover of Twist and Shout. (In a bit of foreshadowing, Ferris also sings a bit of the former in the film’s five minutes. Jeanie later sings a bit of it too.) The terrific climactic sequence as Ferris races home is matched to the sound of The Beat’s March of the Swivelheads (a remix of Rotating Heads).

Beatles references: Ferris quotes a John Lennon lyric from his 1970 track God – “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me…” – then tells us Lennon was the walrus. The Twist and Shout sequence is an unparalleled release of joy on a monumental scale – just look how many extras there are! Paul McCartney once said he liked this film, but objected to Hughes dubbing brass instruments over the Beatles recording. Hughes was hurt to learn he’d upset a Beatle, but argued that the addition was only to match shots of the parade’s marching band. Hughes also once claimed that, while filming Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he listened to the White Album every day for 56 days.

Smiths references: The sequence at the art gallery is scored by a gorgeous cover version of the Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Dream Academy.

Review: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” This film is so many things at once. It’s a wish-fulfilment story along the lines of Weird Science. It’s a love letter to Chicago, John Hughes’s hometown, with loving helicopter shots and the camera swooning over architecture. It’s a demob-happy story about the end of an era – the two leads know their friendship may not survive them going to different colleges. It’s a superhero movie – how else do you explain Ferris’s ability to achieve what he achieves? It’s an assembly line of killer moments, witty dialogue, exciting sequences, scene-stealing cameos, laugh-out-loud comedy and – occasionally – genuine emotion. Above all, it’s *the* example of John Hughes the director. Working with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Philadelphia, The Sixth Sense, 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate) and editor Paul Hirsch (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Mission Impossible), he created a classically beautiful piece of filmmaking. Seriously, watch it shot for shot. It’s stunning. The framings and compositions are just exquisite: beautifully balanced in and of themselves, but always telling the story or selling a joke or conveying an idea. (Notably, there’s no handheld camerawork at all. Ferris’s world is confident and precise.) This is the Pulp Fiction of teen comedies – everything may have been done before, but never with this amount of panache, this amount of style, this uncapped exuberance with the possibilities of cinema. But dry analysis shouldn’t – in fact, doesn’t – detract from how *massively* entertaining the film is to watch.

Ten righteous dudes out of 10

Pretty in Pink (1986, Howard Deutch)

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Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Teenager Andie Walsh starts dating a boy at her school – but he’s from a richer clique, and friends on both sides of the social divide object to the relationship…

Kids:

* Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is a high-school senior from a single-parent, working-class family. Before she appears, some literal-minded direction tells us about her situation: we’re shown that her house is actually on the wrong side of the tracks. Andie chivvies along her layabout father; makes her own outfits to save money; and works part-time at a record shop. (Despite being poor, she still has her own car!) Her best friend, Duckie, is unashamedly in love with her. Because she’s not a ‘richie’, Andie is teased at school by the well-off kids. However, one of them, Blaine, has taken a shine to her so starts flirting. Andie’s torn because he’s rich. But the next day in the school library, Blaine starts IM’ing her (well, the 1986 version of instant messaging) and she’s smitten. Blaine even ventures into the poor kids’ section of the school campus and asks her out – but then makes the mistake of taking her to his rich friend’s house party, where she’s far from welcome. She then takes him to her local hangout, but they bump into Duckie, who’s jealous and bitter about Andie’s new relationship. The night then gets worse when she has to admit to Blaine that she doesn’t want him to see where she lives. Rather than be offended, he drives her home, kisses her and asks her to the school prom. But over the next few days, under pressure from his friend Steff, Blaine blows cold and avoids Andie, leaving her upset. So she confronts him and he admits that he can’t take her to the prom after all: he lies that he’d already asked someone else. After a pep talk from pal Iona, Andie makes herself a new dress and goes to the do alone. At the school entrance, she sees Duckie and the two friends reconcile. And when she realises that Blaine has also come alone, Andie gives him another chance and they kiss… The ending as originally filmed had Andie choose Duckie over Blaine. But test audiences reacted badly, so the cast were recalled and a new sequence cooked up. My heart says she should have picked Duckie, but my head tells me the Blaine ending is better. Pretty in Pink was Ringwald’s third and final John Hughes character – in fact, he wrote it specifically for her. The fact that all are believable and feel different is a real credit to the actress.

* Blaine McDonough (Andrew McCarthy) shows up at Andie’s place of work and buys a random record as an excuse to talk to her. His pal Steff objects to him dating a working-class girl, so puts pressure on him to use her and lose her. Blaine has a wobble and actually dumps Andie (boo), but eventually tells Steff to fuck off (yay). By the time of the happy-ending reshoot, Andrew McCarthy had cut off his hair for another role. So sadly Blaine sports a terrible wig for the film’s final few minutes.

* Phil ‘Duckie’ Dale (Jon Cryer) is Andie’s best friend. He’s not-so-secretly in love with her, though tries to hide his affection behind humour. At one point, he even has a chat with Andie’s dad to assure him of his honourable intentions. Duckie’s smart and quick-witted, but is deliberately failing his classes in order to avoid leaving high school. He’s deeply hurt when Andie starts seeing Blaine and lashes out at her; he later kisses their friend Iona to try to make Andie jealous. But after overhearing Steff slagging off Andie, Duckie physically attacks him. At the end, he patches things up with Andie as they both attend the prom dateless, and Duckie advises her to give Blaine another go. The film then gives him a reward for his sacrifice: he pulls a gorgeous girl. In some ways, the character is a slightly older version of the Geek from Sixteen Candles. Hughes and Deutch originally wanted Anthony Michael Hall to play the role, but he turned it down as he feared being typecast. Robert Downey Jr, who’d just been in Weird Science, was also considered before Cryer was cast.

* Benny Hanson (Kate Vernon) is a rich bully in Andie’s classes. She’s dating Steff. Like most of the students at the school, she looks about 30.

* Jenna (Alexa Kenin) is Andie’s pal at school who delights in returning Benny’s bad attitude (“I hope they shrivel up and fall off…”).

* Steff McKee (James Spader) is Blaine’s best pal, and is a total cunt. After Andie makes it clear she doesn’t like him, Steff turns nasty and counsels Blaine to stay away from her. James Spader gives a performance of prime sleazeball: white Miami Vice jacket, open shirt, no socks, droopy cigarette, languid eyes, slutty girlfriend, the works.

* Simon (Dweezil Zappa) is a pal of Andie and Jenna’s. In his scene at the nightclub, he’s more interested in the band than listening to the girls.

* Benny has a couple of different partners-in-bitchiness, one of whom is played by Gina Gershon.

* A girl at the prom (Kristy Swanson, who was later the original Buffy Summers) is credited as ‘Duckette’ because she smiles at Duckie and nods approvingly. After checking that she means what he thinks she means, he looks conspiratorially at the camera then moves in.

Adults:

* Jack Walsh (Harry Dean Stanton) is Andie’s father, who’s been in a rut ever since her mother walked out on the family. He’s unemployed and, in a self-destructive kind of way, reluctant to get a job. When he finds out Andie is going to her prom, he buys her a garish pink dress. She’s polite about the pattern, but then rumbles that he’s been lying about a new job.

* Iona (Annie Potts) works at – and possibly owns? – Trax, the music store where Andie has a part-time job. A confident if lonely woman in her 30s, she has a post-punk style of dress. She acts as Andie’s surrogate mother figure and is her closest female friend. At one point, Duckie suddenly kisses Iona as a way of provoking Andie (Iona has to admit that she likes it). There’s a sense of her living her life vicariously through Andie – she’s pleased as punch when Andie gets asked to the prom, but the news propels Iona into a nostalgic mood for her 1960s youth. She later starts dating a pet-shop owner (“Amongst other things”) called Terrence and begins dressing more conventionally. Well, conventionally for 1986: she looks like she’s in Ashes to Ashes. Anjelica Huston was offered the part but turned it down. Potts got the job off her terrific appearance in Ghostbusters.

* The bouncer at nightclub Cats (Andrew Dice Clay) never lets Duckie in. It’s not clear why. When he asks Duckie why he keeps coming if Andie can get in and he can’t, Duckie is stumped.

Close-ups: Although not directed by John Hughes – he wrote and executive produced – the house style of close-up montages is continued. Andie is introduced with a series of tight shots of her getting dressed and making herself up. She’s becoming pretty in pink before our eyes.

Music: This is one of the great 1980s movie soundtracks. The title song had been a 1981 single by Psychedelic Furs; the version used in the film is actually a new, more polished recording. A couple of scenes are set in a local nightclub with a local band playing. Duckie lip-syncs and dances to Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness in order to impress Andie. (Sadly for Duckie, Andie’s more interested in her imminent date with Blaine.) Three terrific New Order tracks – Shellshock, Thieves Like Us and Elegia – are used as score. OMD wrote If You Leave in 24 hours specifically for the reshot ending.

Beatles references: Duckie sings a bit of John Lennon song Love.

Smiths references: It seems Hughes and his team had a new favourite band. In Trax, the sign for the Smiths section of the LP racks is prominently shown. The nearby storeroom door has a giant poster of the band on it. And Duckie later listens to Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want while feeling maudlin.

Review: “Blaine?! His name is Blaine? That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name!” Superficially similar to Sixteen Candles, this film actually has a different feel about it. It’s John Hughes does romcom, with the class divide as the prime obstacle in the lovers’ way. The change of tone is largely down to the direction. Hughes hired Howard Deutch to direct his latest script, and he has a much more observational style: looser, calmer, less comic. It’s hard to imagine John Hughes the director using a long handheld take as Andie and Blaine walk down a busy street (or for that matter, allowing a performance as rambling and untamed as Harry Dean Stanton’s!). Aside from one knowing look to camera, there’s none of the slapstick style from earlier Hughes movies. But this actually suits Pretty in Pink’s more-soppy story, which while basic and predictable is enormous fun. Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye…

Nine Warsaw Pacts out of 10

Weird Science (1985, John Hughes)

Weird_Science_051

Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Two teenage boys create the perfect woman on their Memotech MTX512 home computer, and she throws a massive party to boost their popularity…

Kids:

* Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall, in his third straight John Hughes teen comedy) is the slightly more go-getting of the two 15-year-old leads. He and his pal Wyatt fancy a couple of girls at their school, but have no chance of pulling them. Gary also talks about having a girlfriend in Canada – not unlike Brian’s Niagara Falls conquest in The Breakfast Club, she’s clearly made up. While staying at Wyatt’s house for the night, the pair watch 1931 movie Frankenstein on TV (which was specially colourised for its use here). It gives them the idea to create a woman from scratch, so they feed pages of magazines into a slot in Wyatt’s computer – models for looks, Einstein for brains, Beethoven for talent, David Lee Roth for attitude. They also decide on breast size (“Anything bigger than a handful,” advises Gary, “you’re risking a sprained tongue…”) and brain capabilities (‘Intelligence level: 5th grade, slow learner, boring dipshit’). They then… somehow… hook into some kind of embryonic internet and steal the power they need. For the basis for the woman’s body, they use a Barbie doll; for atmosphere, they light candles and put bras on their heads. (All this is in the first 10 minutes of the film, by the way.) Remarkably – you might even say implausibly – the experiment works, and after a series of strange goings-on in the house and surrounding area, the boys see a beautiful, sexy woman in front of them. They name her Lisa and she takes them to a seedy blues bar, giving them fake IDs so they can get in. Gary gets tipsy but somehow charms the regulars with stories of his teenage troubles. (One of them is about the “big titties” of a 13-year-old girl. The 1980s, eh?) Lisa then throws a massive party – the kind of well-attended, anything-goes bash at a huge house that was seen in Sixteen Candles – but Gary hides in the bathroom with Wyatt. This is a problem when their crushes from school, Deb and Hilly, want to come in just after Gary’s used the loo. After Gary fends off some thugs, he and Deb get together and he drives her home the next day in a Ferrari that Lisa’s dreamt up.

* Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is spending the weekend without his parents because they’ve gone away, so invites Gary to sleep over. After the night out to the bar with Lisa, Wyatt returns home to find that his older brother, Chet, has returned from college. The pair don’t get on and Chet enjoys bullying Wyatt. Before bed, Wyatt and Lisa share a tender moment and she teaches him how to kiss. At the party the next day, Wyatt’s nerves result in him hiding in the bathroom. But he soon makes a connection with Hilly, then stands up to a scary gang of party-crashers. Wyatt and Hilly later kiss, and he takes her home the morning after the party.

* Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) are the two students who Gary and Wyatt fancy. Bored of boyfriends Ian and Max, they attend Lisa’s party and get to know Gary and Wyatt.

* Ian (Robert Downey Jr) and Max (Robert Rusler) are the school bullies who torment Gary and Wyatt early on: pulling their shorts down in the gym, throwing a slushy over them in the mall. When they spot Lisa, they’re bewitched – but stunned to find that she’s with Gary. (“She likes the rough stuff,” says Gary as an explanation. “What can I do?”) They also attend the party, mostly to be close to Lisa – but she resists their advances, saying she belongs to Gary and Wyatt. So they apologise to the boys for the bullying, hoping to negotiate a loan of Lisa (in exchange for Deb and Hilly!). As a compromise, Gary and Wyatt show them how to make their own Lisa (“Bigger tits!” they demand). However, the process creates chaos during the party – photographs come to life, the kitchen turns blue, a partygoer gets trapped in a TV, rooms flip upside down, and a girl has her clothes ripped off (they cast a former Playmate of the Month). Their efforts fail to produce a perfect woman, though, because they forget to hook up a Barbie doll. Instead, it creates an enormous missile (because… plot).

* Chet (Bill Paxton) is Wyatt’s oppressive older brother. He extorts cash from Wyatt, and generally enjoys tormenting both him and Gary. He’s especially perplexed when he sees Wyatt wearing Lisa’s underpants, but just uses it as a way of getting more hush money. He’s out on the night of the party but returns to the mess it’s created. So Lisa deals with him by magically turning him into, well, an anthropomorphic pile of shit. “Why do you have to be such a wanker?” she asks. She also says she’ll only change him back when he promises to treat Wyatt better.

Adults:

* Lisa (Kelly Le Brock) is initially dressed in the same crop-top-and-knickers combo that the Barbie had on and (for some reason) has an English accent. She’s beautiful, sexy and confident. Her fairy-godmother mission is to make sure the two boys have a great time and become more popular. She also has magic abilities: she can change people’s clothes instantly, conjure up cars out of thin air, switch lights on with her mind, put people into catatonic states… “Mary Poppins with breasts,” is how Le Brock once described the character. When she sexily asks Gary and Wyatt, “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”, they say they want to shower with her. However, unlike Lisa, the boys aren’t brave enough to strip off, so wear their shorts. When she asks for a name, Gary suggests Lisa (after a girl he used to fancy who kicked him in the nuts because he spoke to her). The next day, she decides to throw a party at Wyatt’s house and invites as many people as possible. Realising Gary and Wyatt need more confidence, she then creates a gang of savage punk bikers to terrorise the partygoers with the idea that the boys can defeat them. (Gary and Wyatt initially hide in a cupboard, then come good.) The final scene of the film sees Lisa take her place as a gym teacher at the school. When her class of boys all faint, she winks at the camera. Le Brock certainly looks the part, and she’s not terrible exactly. But it’s a shame that an actress with more comic talent – Kim Basinger maybe? Kirstie Alley? – wasn’t cast instead. Le Brock wasn’t first choice, incidentally. Model Kelly Emburg, who was then going out with Rod Stewart, worked on the film for a couple of days but was then dropped.

* There are numerous staff and customers at the bar Lisa takes the boys to. One of them is played by John Kapelos from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

* Al and Lucy Wallace (Britt Leach and Barbara Lang) are Gary’s parents, who Lisa meets when she comes to collect Gary for the party. It’s a terrific comic scene. They’re flabbergasted by how mature and forward she is, then shocked by both her plans for the party and the way she talks about Gary’s masturbation habits. When Al threatens to call the police, Lisa pulls a gun on him then casts a spell so he forgets that he’s got a son.

* Henry and Carmen Donnelly (Ivor Barry and Ann Coyle) are Wyatt’s grandparents, who decide on a whim to pop in and see him. They’re unhappy that a party’s going on, so Lisa says, “You ought to know better than to walk into somebody’s house and start hitting people with your Rex Harrison hat!” She then freezes them and puts them in a kitchen cupboard. Their rictus grins are terrifying.

* The gang of post-apocalyptic bikers include Vernon Wells, formerly of Mad Max 2 and later the schizoid bad guy in Commando, and Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes.

* Mr and Mrs Donnelly (Doug MacHugh and Pamela Gordon) are Wyatt’s parents. They return home at the end, just as the last of the party mess has been magically tidied up.

Close-ups: When Gary and Wyatt have a conspiratorial conversation about Deb and Hilly, we see it as a series of extreme close-ups of their mouths.

Music: The catchy title song is by Oingo Boingo, a band that included film composer Danny Elfman. It includes sound bites from the 1931 Frankenstein, echoing that movie’s use in the story. Kim Wilde’s Turn It On features briefly. A snatch from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells scores Gary and Wyatt waking up and wondering whether Lisa’s creation had been a dream. We hear the intro from Van Halen’s cover of Oh, Pretty Woman as Lisa rides an escalator, blows a kiss at Ian and Max, and generally distracts every lustful man (and one woman) she passes. The up-tempo Eighties by Killing Joke plays at the party. The final scene uses a bit of rousing incidental music from Rocky.

Beatles references: None.

Review: “There’s going to be sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high-school orgy thing. I mean, I’m not talking candle wax on the nipples or witchcraft or anything like that. No, just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals.” Weird is the word. What an insane film this is. It’s part shameless wish-fulfilment for teenage boys, part madcap comedy. But after the articulate angst of the previous two films, Weird Science’s *tenuous* connection to the real world is a real shock. John Hughes wrote the script – very loosely based on a story from 1950s comic book Weird Science – in two days, and sadly it shows. While generally good fun in a switch-your-brain-off way, it’s astonishingly slipshod. Things happen ‘just because’. Lisa is a character with magic powers who can basically do anything she wants, and all she wants to do is please Gary and Wyatt. Not exactly drama through adversity, is it? “When are you gonna learn people like you for who you are, not for what you give them,” Lisa says to the boys at one point, soon after she’s spent an hour engineering happiness for them so they don’t have to achieve it themselves. The film’s latent sexism is difficult to excuse too. There’s fun to be had, though, with the 1980s attitude to computers (ie, that they can do anything: also see WarGames, Superman III, DARYL…). A mess, but a broadly enjoyable one.

Seven greasy pork sandwiches served in a dirty ashtray out of 10

The Breakfast Club (1985, John Hughes)

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Saturday 24 March 1984. 7am. Five students arrive at their school to spend the day in detention. They have to sit quietly in the library for nine hours and write an essay…

Kids:

* Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) – aka the princess. Reason for detention: skipped class to go shopping. Claire is spoilt, rich and aloof, and wears an expensive burgundy jacket, which goes very well with her red hair and pink blouse. She initially takes a dislike to Bender – especially after he says she has a fat girl’s name, questions her sexual experience and even puts his head up her skirt – but slowly warms to him as the story progresses. By the end, they become a couple and she gives him one of her diamond earrings. Earlier, the group force her into admitting that she’s a virgin. She then shows off her party trick: applying lip-gloss while the stick is held in her cleavage. It’s a strange moment, which has to be shot circumspectly to hide the fact Ringwald can’t really do it. During the production of Sixteen Candles, John Hughes had asked Ringwald to play Allison in this film. But after reading the script she campaigned for the role of Claire instead.

* Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) – aka the brain. Reason for detention: a gun was found in his locker. He’s a pale, lanky nerd who’s a member of the maths, Latin and physics clubs. He’s polite and obedient and just wants to write his essay. At one point, he seems to be suffering from a touch of morning glory. When Bender assumes he’s a virgin, Brian says he slept with a Canadian girl at Niagara Falls and has experience with Claire – but then Bender embarrasses him into admitting that neither story is true. He later has to hide Bender’s drugs (down his trousers). During the group’s confessional scene, Brian reveals that he’s under so much pressure to excel academically that he’s considered killing himself. (The others laugh, though, when he says he was going to use a flare gun.) As 4pm approaches, Brian starts to write the essay. The group have decided to submit one between the five of them – the copy we heard read out at the beginning of the film.

* Andy Clark (Emilio Estevez) – aka the athlete. Reason for detention: he taped a boy’s buttocks together for a laugh. One of the school’s star wrestlers, he dresses in a varsity hoodie. A no-nonsense type, he has little time for Bender’s antics. “If I lose my temper you’re toast, man,” he warns him. When things later get physical between them, Andy easily grapples Bender to the floor. Things thaw when Andy has a go of Bender’s marijuana: he does a crazy, manic dance round the library’s upper gallery, pumping his fists, then screams so loud he breaks a glass door. He defends Claire from Bender’s bullying, and asks if she’s going to a party that night, but later makes a connection with Allison. After the latter has had a feminine makeover, Andy is knocked out and they share a kiss. Estevez actually auditioned to play Bender, but moved to the role of Andy when John Hughes was struggling to cast the part.

* John Bender (Judd Nelson) – aka the criminal. Reason for detention: set off a needless fire alarm. Bender, a denim-jacketed force of nature, is the spark that lights the fire. Without him, none of the others would have talked to each other. He’s confident, cocky and sneery – Courtney Love once said he was “full of dick and penis and scrotum and testicles” – and can cut through the bullshit. He asks impertinent but insightful questions, pushes people’s buttons and sees how they react. If this were a Becket play, we’d later find out that he’d been figment of the other characters’ imagination. (In fact, at one point Andy says to him, “You may as well not exist at this school.”) Not willing to accept the no-talking rule, Bender wastes no time in provoking the others: he bullies Brian, tries to disgust Claire, winds up Andy, and generally rebels against the rules. He breaks a door, sets fire to his own shoes, rips up books, brandishes his flick-knife… Bender does a speculative impression of Brian’s all-American family, then one of his own angry home life and shows Andy a cigar burn on his arm. He’s clearly a very damaged soul. He’s self-destructive too: when he sarcastically asks Mr Vernon, “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?” he’s given an extra detention. Vernon later goads him into more backchat, resulting in possibly seven or eight more Saturday detentions (Brian keeps count, but Vernon disagrees with his tally). Halfway through the film, Bender leads a mutiny and all five kids sneak out of the library and visit Bender’s locker, from where he retrieves some marijuana. He then sacrifices himself, running off loudly so Vernon will chase him and the others can get back to the library unseen. Vernon then locks Bender is a storeroom, but Bender finds a way back to the library and hides under the table when Vernon walks in. He then lights up and shares his marijuana around. Soon everyone but Allison is getting high, and they start to talk… As well as Judd Nelson – who bullied Ringwald off-screen too, much to John Hughes’s disgust – John Cusack and Nicolas Cage were in the running for Bender. Cusack actually got the job before Hughes had a rethink.

* Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) – aka the basketcase. Reason for detention: none (she just had nothing better to do). A fuzzy cloud of hair, scarves and bags, at first she sits quietly in her duffel coat looking like a proto-grunge chick. She doesn’t speak until 24 minutes in, and then it’s only to exclaim, ”Ha!” (She gets told to shut up.) At one point, we see that she’s an excellent artist. She draws an image that looks like the bridge from Beetlejuice, then shakes dandruff all over it as snow. She claims a lot of things: that she drinks tonnes of vodka, that she’s a kleptomaniac, that she’s a nymphomaniac, that she sleeps with her shrink… But then she ’fesses up. She’s actually a compulsive liar. At the end of the film, once everyone’s made friends, Claire decides to give Allison a makeover. She lifts her hair off her face and applies some pretty make-up. Allison looks good. But it’s a truly bizarre moment, which is incredibly out-of-step with the film’s message of self-identity and confidence. “Are you a girl with problems? Well, just start looking like all the other girls and everything will be fine!”

Adults:

* We see various parents, but only briefly: Claire’s BWM-driving dad, Brian’s pushy mum, Andy’s angry dad, and later Brian’s dad (a mute cameo for John Hughes). Brian’s sister appears too.

* Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) is the cynical, disillusioned teacher who’s drawn the short straw and has to supervise the detention. At the start of the day, he sets them an assignment: write a 1,000-word essay on who they think they are. He has no affection for the kids and seems to take delight in going up against the rebellious Bender. He doesn’t seem that fussed about supervising, though: he leaves the kids alone for huge amounts of time so he can sneak down into the basement and rifle through his colleagues’ personal files.

* Carl (John Kapelos). Before we see Carl in person, we see his face on the wall: when a student, it seems he was once the school’s Man of the Year. He’s now the school janitor, doing his rounds at the weekend. When Bender tries patronising him, Carl easily shuts him down – reminding the lad that, as janitor, he can open people’s lockers and look through their personal effects. He later finds Vernon doing the same with the other teachers’ files, so blackmails him $50 to keep quiet. Rick Moranis was originally cast in the role, but left after a disagreement with John Hughes. Kapelos had also been in Sixteen Candles.

Close-ups: Hughes reuses the Sixteen Candles trick of employing a close-up montage to introduce the school. We see shots of graffiti, litter, lockers, a dining room, a clock, corridors, a school newspaper, walls, trophies, a stage, a notebook… All the while Brian’s voiceover reads the essay that he’ll write at the end of the story. As his monologue cites the five main characters, we see a relevant image: a room of computers for Brian, an untidy locker room for Andy, a school counsellor’s desk for Allison, a prom queen poster for Claire, and a threateningly graffitied locker for Bender. Check out the sequence here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-KArgdek5o

Music: A pounding bass-drum kick-starts the film. Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds wasn’t written for this movie, but it’s become inextricably associated with it. As it plays, a quotation from David Bowie song Changes appears on the screen: it’s about kids being more perceptive than adults give them credit for. The screen then symbolically smashes apart and a long instrumental mix of Don’t You plays over the opening montage talked about above. It couldn’t *be* any more arch and iconic. You know you’re watching something special. The rest of the film has far fewer famous songs than Sixteen Candles had – a result presumably of the smaller budget ($1 million, against $6.5m for Sixteen Candles). There’s some bass-heavy incidental music. At one point, Bender hums the bassline from Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love and whistles The Colonel Bogey March (the other characters join in with the latter – the first instance of them bonding). The film’s first burst of movement is after 44 minutes: scored by Fire in the Twilight by Wang Chung, the kids run through the school corridors trying to avoid being seen by Vernon. Later the group dance about in the library to Karla Devito’s We Are Not Alone. It’s an explosion of emotion, a release of passion after a long, fraught scene. In its strange, kooky way, it’s rather magnificent. Don’t You is also reprised at the end.

Beatles references: Carl says that when he was younger he wanted to be John Lennon. The character of Mr Vernon is named after British actor Richard Vernon (Goldfinger, Upstairs Downstairs, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), who John Hughes knew from the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night.

Review: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.” What’s most striking about this film is its economy. Seven characters, one building, one day. This theatre-like construction results in some notably long scenes. We’re inside the library for a total of 71 minutes and 57 seconds (on the Region 2 DVD anyway). The whole film is only 92 minutes 58 – meaning 77 per cent of it is set in one room. There are cutaways to corridors and offices, and scenes outside, but we stay in that library for long stretches – a continuous chunk of over 20 minutes in the final third. Thankfully, there’s a *terrific* cast with no weak link. Three of the five lead actors also made St Elmo’s Fire in the same year, while the other two had just made Sixteen Candles – this is the birth of the Brat Pack. But that tabloid tag does them a disservice: these are quality actors. They’d had three weeks of rehearsals before the camera rolled, and were primed and fresh. And the direction is fantastic, with staging and blocking often telling the story (another stage technique). Check out the early moments. The two most similar kids, Claire and Andy, instinctively sit next to each other when they arrive; weirdo Allison sits as far away as possible; meek Brian sits where he’s told; while agent provocateur Bender can’t sit still and prowls the space. The key scene – that 20-minute segment – sees the five kids sitting in the library, slightly stoned and ready to talk. ‘Stoned’ is significant: again, it’s Bender who gets things moving. He’s also the first to talk openly about his fears. But things turn darker and more serious with a very slow circular camera move around Andy as he discusses his father’s disappointment and how it affects him. The barriers have been broken down, the conversation turns confessional, and the characters are sitting in a democratic semi-circle (again, storytelling through blocking). But it’s also brutally honest: popular kids Claire and Andy admit that, despite the bond they’ve all built, on Monday morning things will be back to normal. It might not be especially deep stuff to say that when you’re young things are tough in a way that adults forget about; that all those problems are basically their parents’ fault. But it’s incredibly effective drama, thanks to the writing and the performances. It’s funny, charming, touching and endlessly enjoyable. Shame about the makeover, though.

Ten hot beef injections out of 10

Sixteen Candles (1984, John Hughes)

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Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

When Samantha Baker turns 16, her family forget her birthday because they’re distracted by her sister’s upcoming wedding. Meanwhile, Sam’s also trying to get noticed by the school hunk *and* avoid the attentions of an über-geek…

Kids:

* Samantha Baker is played by John Hughes’s muse, Molly Ringwald. She’s a smart, likeable but shy teenager with red hair and a frustrating life. The first 67 minutes of the film take place on the character’s 16th birthday, but her entire family (including all four grandparents) have forgotten. She fancies a fellow pupil called Jake Ryan, but doesn’t think he’d be interested because he’s popular and has an attractive girlfriend. After making friends with a geek at a school dance, she freezes when she gets the chance to talk to Jake. So she goes home unhappy, where – in a very sweet scene – her father apologies for forgetting her birthday. Things also look up the next day: after Sam is bridesmaid at her sister’s chaotic wedding, Jake arrives to woo her… The initial favourite to play Sam was Ally Sheedy, but then John Hughes discovered Ringwald. The actress was only 16 herself, but had real star quality around this time. She’s so watchable.

* Sam has three siblings. Self-obsessed older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is preparing for her wedding but has been struck by her period. She takes four painkillers, which just make her delirious. Younger brother Mike (Justin Henry) is a chipper smartarse, while there’s also a young sister, Sara (Cinnamon Idles), who doesn’t get much to do.

* Sam’s best pal, Randy (Liane Curtis), is in some early scenes then kinda drops out of the story.

* Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) is the high-school hunk that Sam fancies. He’s a senior; she’s a sophomore – though oddly they share a class at one point (is that an American thing?). Unknown to Sam, he actually likes her too and is bored by his shallow girlfriend, Caroline. So he decides to pursue Sam and asks head geek Ted for help. Jake finally tracks Sam down at the wedding. He waits outside the church with his red sports car. Show-off. (Viggo Mortensen also auditioned for the part. Surely he’d have been better than the lethargic Schoeffling.)

* Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris) is introduced via a close-up of her pert breasts while Sam and Randy look on with envy in the showers. She’s so perfect – popular, gorgeous, dotes on her deaf brother – that Sam hates her. Caroline later gets plastered at the big party and traps her hair in a door, so a helpful friend (played by Jami Gertz) cuts a chunk of her ’do off. She’s then taken home by an overexcited Ted. When they wake up in a car the following morning, Caroline thinks they may have slept together (neither can fully remember) and has a weird feeling that she enjoyed it.

* The Geek – as he’s credited, though he calls himself Farmer Ted – is played by Anthony Michael Hall, the Robert De Niro to John Hughes’s Martin Scorsese. We first see him inelegantly hitting on Samantha, who couldn’t be less interested. He then tries again at that evening’s school dance: Sam is initially disgusted by his attention, but after he admits that he’s never ‘bagged a babe’ and that he’s pally with Jake, she starts to tolerate him. She even gives him her underwear so he can claim he slept with her. (He charges fellow nerds to see the pants.) Ted later blags his way into Jake’s party, and gives Jake advice on how to seduce Sam. He’s then tasked with getting a paralytic Caroline home in Jake’s dad’s Rolls-Royce. A hopelessly drunk Caroline flirts with him (“This is getting good,” he says to camera after she passes out in his lap) and he gets his pals to take a photograph of them together. The next day, they share a kiss. A prom queen and a geek? There may be some wish-fulfilment going on here. In many ways, Hall is the star of the movie. By playing the character with commitment and belief, rather than as a cartoon dweeb, he makes him likeable and interesting.

* Geek Girl #1 (Joan Cusack) is a nervous schoolgirl who wears a restrictive neck brace. At one point she has trouble using a water fountain; later, drinking from a can is a big problem.

* Long Duc Dong (Gedde Watanabe) is a Chinese exchange student who’s staying with the Baker grandparents, so they bring him to the wedding. Mentions of his name are accompanied by a gong-crash sound effect – this is just one example of the racist humour that clings to the character. Sam is forced to take Dong to the school dance, where he meets and becomes besotted with a large-chested woman (Deborah Pollack). The two of them spend the evening together, get drunk and attend the party at Jake’s house. The next day, Dong’s found lying in the street. He’s still drunk and has lost grandad Fred’s car, which he – Dong – finds hilarious.

* Ted has two nerdy sidekicks – Bryce (John Cusack) and Cliff (Darren Harris). They enjoy using surveillance goggles and radio communicators (even when standing next to each other), and betting with floppy discs.

* Ginny’s fiancé, Rudy (John Kapelos), is an Italian-American dunderhead. After they’ve married, she’s so loopy on painkillers that he has to manhandle her through the congregation and into the car.

Adults:

* Sam’s parents – Jim (Paul Dooley) and Brenda (Carlin Glynn) – are likeable, and are gutted when they realise they forget her birthday.

* Both sets of Sam’s grandparents are staying for the wedding. One pair (Edward Andrews and Police Academy’s Billie Bird) moan about their health then think Jake is making a dirty phone call when he tries ringing for Sam. The others (Max Showater and Carole Cook) are more earthy and embarrass Sam by pointing out that she’s ‘got her boobies’.

* Ginny’s parents-in-law-to-be are Italian-Americans. The very subtle joke is that they might be gangsters. A section of music from The Godfather scores the scene, just in case you miss the satire.

* There’s a short, squeaky-voiced woman working at the church. We hear the sound of clinking bottles in her handbag as she walks.

Close-ups: With his director’s hat on, John Hughes was a great fan of montages of close-ups. It’s a cute way of telling story – or selling gags – through details. This film’s showpiece example is the title sequence, in which Sam’s school is introduced and explored through a series of shots of students’ faces, legs, hands and bums, lockers, jackets, bus doors… Here it is, though this clip has the wrong music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvcGp91KgR4

Music: God, John Hughes knew how to use music. This film is *full* of it. As well as Ira Newborn’s incidental score, snatches of old film and TV themes are used for comic effect. The Twilight Zone, Peter Gunn and Dragnet are all deployed with real wit. There are also loads of great pre-existing songs to create atmosphere and mood – Paul Young’s Love of the Common People, Altered Images’ Happy Birthday, Spandau Ballet’s True, the Specials’ Little Bitch, Hang up the Phone by Annie Golden, Frank Sinatra’s Theme From New York, New York and many more.

Beatles references: To try to impress a sullen Sam, Ted sings snatches of two Beatles tracks: Happy Birthday and Hey Jude (both 1968).

Review: “I can’t believe it. They fucking forgot my birthday.” This fun film has a slightly odd structure. As the title suggests, it starts and ends as birthday girl Samantha’s story. However, she doesn’t feature very much in the middle and the focus shifts to Farmer Ted. It’s like the movie has been distracted by a more overtly funny subplot. But there’s plenty to enjoy, not least the relentless 1980s-ness of the music, the fashions, the notion that all 16-year-olds can drive, Sam’s bedroom posters (Culture Club, Squeeze, et al), the kind of high-school dance that Grosse Point Blank would later reference, and wild parties held in enormous houses of parents who are away for the weekend… It can be a bit crude at times – lines about race and rape have dated badly – while the ending is incredibly pat. Everyone gets a happy ending whether it’s believable or not and the climactic wedding never really takes flight. But it’s mostly entertaining stuff, full of comic moments and plenty of heart.

Eight muscle relaxants out of 10