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…
* 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.
* 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