Skip to main content

The only things I care about in this goddamn life are me and my drums... and you.

Some Kind of Wonderful
(1987)

(SPOILERS) The final entry in John Hughes’ teen cycle – after this he’d be away with the adults and moppets, and making an untold fortune from criminal slapstick – is also his most patently ridiculous, and I’m not forgetting Weird Science. Not because of its unconvincing class commentary, although that doesn’t help, but because only one of its teenage leads was under 25 when the movie came out, and none of them were Michael J Fox, 30-passing-for-15 types. That all counts towards its abundant charm, though; it’s almost as if Some Kind of Wonderful is intentionally coded towards the broader pool Hughes would subsequently plunge into (She’s Having a Baby was released the same year). Plus, its indie soundtrack is every bit as appealing as previous glories The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.


Mention of the latter highlights Some Kind of Wonderful’s greatest boast; it’s a gender swapped Pretty in Pink, only this time Hughes (and his directing surrogate Howard Deutch, who also helmed Pretty) have their guy pick the right gal, as opposed to that movie, where Molly Ringwald superficially plumped for Andrew McCarthy over Jon Cryer. True, there’s a touch of the impossibly sensitive about Eric Stoltz’s Keith Nelson, but he’s an appealing lead, and manages to avoid looking as if he’s permanently about to wet himself, which was always McCarthy’s prevailing contortion. Stoltz had gained notice in Fast Times at Ridgemont High five years earlier (even then he was 20), and had since garnered plaudits for teen-Elephant Man pic Mask and career-defining negative publicity for being replaced by Fox on Back to the Future.


As compensation, the not-even-one-time Marty McFly finally gets to cop off with his mom, Lea Thompson, as the social climbing Miss Amanda Jones (The March Violets provide the Stones cover). Thompson was coming off a couple of stinkers (Space Camp and Howard the Duck, or Howard: A New Breed of Hero as the to-no-avail UK retitling would have you believe; she actually emerges unscathed from Lucas’ folly, one of the picture’s few bright spots), and while the role allows for a few tonal shades – Amanda isn’t merely the shallow rich-bitch prize, but actually has feelings too – it yields none of the opportunities for meaty comic timing her Lorraine McFly did (seriously, as effortlessly great as Fox is in Back to the Future, and the unarguable reason it went stratospheric, the real joys performance-wise come from Thompson and Crispin Glover).


Keith: You always hurt the ones you love.
Watts: So when are beating the shit out of Amanda Jones?

And then there’s Mary Stuart Masterson (Watts), the only near-age-appropriate member of the cast (she was 20). Hers is the Jon Cryer role, although it would be understandable if you did a double take that Keith could be ignoring the “sexy tomboy beanpole” (an award MSM would retain until Keira Knightley was crowned by the possibly-on-its-last-legs ain’t it cool news) under his nose. The movie is, of course, a massive cheat. Pretty at least cast unconventional-looking actors as it ugly ducky-lings and swans; here we have three impossibly good-looking types vying it out for attention (to be fair, Ringwald turned down Amanda, a probably wise move given her subsequent typecasting, but Hughes never used her again, reportedly taking umbrage).


And Craig Sheffer (Hardy Jenns), who looks like an evil, supremely-punchable Matt Damon playing James Spader’s part from Pretty, complete with archetypal bad-‘80s fashion etiquette of rolled-up suit jacket sleeves; he really deserved to go down.


The picture’s stylised poverty, courtesy of Deutsch (who would go on to marry Thompson, the fiend), is never even momentarily convincing. Sean Astin, as Keith’s blue-collar dad Cliff, aspirant for a son who has no desire to be first in the family to go to college (“Co-ed physical education” Cliff mutters to himself, awestruck, leafing through a prospectus), gives it his best, but there’s never any mistaking this window dressing for substance (do you ever once buy that Keith is the type to mend cars?)


And yet, it’s a John Hughes movie! It’s forgivable! It’s part of the charm! Keith is supposed to be “the weirdest guy in high school”, which I think is giving him waaaaaaay too much credit – unless it’s a very dull school – as he’s about as oddball as algebra (the tag comes from his younger sister Laura, Maddie Corman, who runs off with most of the best comic lines – instructing her friends about how she’s instantly part of the in-crowd now Keith is with Amanda “or the whole social structure crumbles” – and has a standout moment when Cliff, having met with the school career advisor, raps on her classroom window and waves; she involuntarily screams and asks to see the nurse).


Hardy: You know what, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing in the world if you and me actually turned out to be friends.
Keith: Yes, it would.

These aren’t geeks (they smoke, hanging out at bars (“Who doesn’t have ID?”; there’s nary a hint of real, Anthony Michael Hall, not-fitting-in), not even close, which means the movie is even less identifiable to its typically troubled target group, where even Ferris Bueller had a Cameron Frye, so it’s a little difficult to chart their status at school, particularly since the beautiful people tend to instantly win there by default.


Deutch has to strain at signifiers of their difference, from others suggesting Watts is a lesbian (mostly because she has short hair, and is aggressive, and, er, nurses an obsession with drumming – hilariously, she carries drum sticks everywhere she goes, just like Keith carries a paint brush, symbolic of their artistry, don’t you know –  yet she only has eyes for Keith). When Dad’s response to Keith telling him he’s one of the guys who didn’t fit in is “I didn’t know about this”, ours is “No shit, we wouldn’t have guessed either”.


So, being as they don’t really have all that much to complain about – they aren’t horribly put upon, are fashionable in their own ‘80s way, and did I say less than ugly – it’s required that Sheffer’s Hardy must be relentlessly, unforgivably areshole-ish. It’s actually a fairly hilarious cartoon he’s asked to portray, and Sheffer duly rises to the despicable occasion (“The one thing I’m glad about… is that you get her used. She’s the trash, you’re just a fool”).


Keith: This place is my church.

It’s something of a testament to the central ménage à trois that the increasingly ludicrous third act has its feet on the ground at all, as Keith decides to stand up to the bully and what he perceives to be Amanda in on the plan to beat him up, disposing of his college fund to take her on an expensive night out, with Watts at the wheel of a limo. Frankly, it isn’t surprising Cliff is askance at his son throwing his cash away, as it’s a pretty batty decision (you see, Laura was right, Keith actually is the weirdest kid at school).


Anything less than Stoltz’s guilelessness would make all this seem highly stalker-creepy, rather than adorable; he’s hung a portrait of her in an art gallery, for goodness sake (as with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the art gallery is Hughes’ shorthand for a teen of taste and discernment, although fortunately there’s no Smiths playing this time). One might reasonably argue it’s a pretty dodgy set up all round, since while we aren’t quite in Vertigo territory, Keith’s fantasy projection of Amanda does indeed woo her; it’s only the memory of his tremendous, camera-spinning tonsil hockey with Watts that saves the day (a scene finding Watts at her most relentlessly masochistic, offering herself as a practice smooch for Keith’s big night; luckily for her, the gambit worked).


Keith: You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Watts: Yeah, but you can tell how much it’s gonna cost.

Some Kind of Wonderful may not be able to compete with the wall-to-wall genius of Hughes’ previous screenplay (Bueller, anyone?) but there are enough cherishable nuggets of teen wisdom to be getting on with. Lines like, “Don’t go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs”, “It’s better to swallow pride than blood”, “Break his heart, I’ll break your face”, and the classic tormented angst of “The moment you stop thinking there’s someone out there for you, it’s over, right?” Or, if you prefer, “Go get your skag, and let’s roll”. The picture concludes with a couple of cornball gems as Amanda looks on the positive side of being dumped by her rich mates and dumped by Keith (“It’s gonna feel good to stand on my own”), and the latter gets nascently proprietorial about the jewellery he’s just furnished Watts with (“You look good wearing my future”).


Watts: Ray, this 1987. Did you know a girl can be anything she wants to be?
Ray: I know, my mum’s a plumber… And I have an enormous amount of respect for her.

There are several other notables in the supporting cast deserving a mention. Molly Hagan as Amanda’s rich bitch not-really friend Shayne, who would fall victim to Kramer’s lure as Sister Roberta in Seinfeld episode The Conversion. Scott Coffey, who has an enormous amount of respect for his mother, had previously appeared in Ferris Bueller and would go on to become a regular David Lynch bit player. Candace Cameron Bure’s junior Nelson sibling Cindy would pave the way for the impossibly precocious brats who would form a staple of Hughes fare over the next few years (mostly played by Macaulay Culkin). And then there’s Elias Koteas.


Duncan: I’m here to wipe the floor with your ass. And you know it, and everybody knows it, and you deserve it.

Yes, Koteas’ Duncan (curiously credited only as “Skinhead”) is perhaps the picture’s ultimate fantasy element, the thuggish pupil with a heart of gold. If no one else is remotely convincing as 18, Koteas takes this to a new level as he was already balding. In classic twist fashion – he’s like a punk Amanda Jones – we’re introduced to him as an ignorant, aggressive lug, but as soon as he incurs the attentions of a teacher we know there’s more to him. Having been discovered with cigarettes and alcohol, he chortlesomely protests “These were a gift… from your wife”. When Keith lands in detention (doing so purposefully to be with Amanda, who has used her wiles to get out of said class, telling a bald teacher she likes what he has done with his hair), he and Duncan bond over art and girls (Keith shows him a portrait of Amanda, Duncan rips the top off his desk to evidence the engraving he’s been working on).


And most rousingly, Han Solo-style, he shows up just at the crucial moment when Keith is about to be beaten to a pulp and Amanda is going to have to beg to save him (“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary”). Koteas, who improvised much of his dialogue, as well as putting his head on Thompson’s shoulder at the end (her smile is genuine), has had an interesting career, ranging from Casey Jones in the (original) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a regular in Atom Egoyan features, but this is the one I always go back to as a favourite, particularly his sign off (of the party, he says he’s going to “stick around here and crank it up to a nice, respectable level”). I can only hope he and Stoltz didn’t improvise the jaw-dropping response to Amanda slapping Hardy, though: not good.


Of course, there’s also the question, did Keith make the right choice? Well, honestly, we don’t really get a chance to know, and if it wasn't for Deutch giving us a less than sleek flashback to that kiss at a crucial moment, he probably wouldn't have been any the wiser either. We aren’t privy to Amanda Jones private moments, so our perception of her is filtered through Keith’s interactions. That, and her future husband is intent on servicing the more superficial elements of her character (the fantasy gym shot in socks and t-shirt). So obviously, it’s MSM. Fortunately, this wasn’t one of those, like Pretty in Pink or Four Weddings and a Funeral (or Green Card), where the lead made the patently wrong decision when settling on his partner. All three leads would have career bright spots over the next few years, Masterson in Benny and Joon and Thompson returning to Lorraine McFly, but only Stoltz would hit on anything approaching a consistent streak, collaborating with Tarantino, Roger Avery and Cameron Crowe.


I said earlier that the third act is only pulled off because of its leads’ dedication, but there’s also a sense that they’re too good for such froth – I mean that affectionately – and too mature to really to sell it as a teen drama. The result is that Some Kind of Wonderful occupies a strange dress-up space of play acting where no one is convincing anyone, but at the same time you go with it because the trappings are so familiar and welcoming. At the time, Hughes was coming off a string of hits, having successfully tapped into the teenage daydream/nightmare. Some Kind of Wonderful broke that trend, floundering at the box office. Hughes tellingly didn’t return to the well, which is just as well, as the following year the lighter-burned Heathers, with its jet-black humour, teen-angst bullshit and high school murders (and would-be massacre) came along and forever changed the face of the genre. A retreat into the safe space of ten-year-olds inflicting ultra-violence on inept home invaders seemed like a wise move.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re going to find that creature they call the Yeti.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Abominable Snowman follows the first two Quatermass serials as the third Hammer adaptation of a Nigel Kneale BBC work. As with those films, Val Guest takes the directorial reins, to mixed results. Hammer staple Peter Cushing repeats his role from The Creature (the title of the original teleplay). The result is worthy in sentiment but unexceptional in dramatic heft. Guest fails to balance Kneale’s idea of essentially sympathetic creatures with the disintegration of the group bent on finding them.

Nevertheless, Kneale’s premise still stands out. The idea that the Yeti is an essentially shy, peaceful, cryptozoological beastie is now commonplace, but Kneale adds a further twist by suggesting that they are a distinct and in some respects more advance parallel branch in the evolution of hominids (the more extravagant notion that they are in some way extra-dimensional is absent, but with the powers thy sport here wouldn’t be such a leap). Cushing’s Rollason is…