Director: Howard Deutch
Writer: John Hughes
Cinematographer: Jan Kiesser
Producer: John Hughes
by Jon Cvack
John Hughes hasn’t directed as many films as one might think - achieving the rare accomplishment in which out of a filmography of seven films, five have become American classics and the other two I haven’t seen yet. For those who don’t want to look it up, it includes Sixteen Candles (1984), Weird Science (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985), Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), Uncle Buck (1989) and the two films I haven’t yet seen She’s Having a Baby (1988) and his last film Curly Sue (1991). Even more impressive, he’d still go on to write Home Alone (1990), Beethoven (1992), Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Home Alone 2 (1992), Dennis the Menace (1993), and 101 Dalmatians (1996; the live action version which we don’t hear about too often, with Glenn Close playing Cruella de Vil and looks amazing). All before his sudden and early death at the age of 59.
Most wouldn’t consider Hughes to have a definitive visual style, so much as a look and focus. He directed his attention toward teenagers with complete personalities, from the innocent to the embarrassing. Many have tried to compare him to filmmakers since. On Real Time with Bill Maher a few years back, Maher made the comparison to Judd Apatow. It’s close, but there’s a strong lean toward the masculine and its honest dirty jokes. John Hughes somehow made seemingly insignificant events into grand and hilarious dramas. Similar to Christopher Nolan, he somehow keeps fantastical scenarios all grounded in plausibility.
Any great storyteller has the ability to consistently balance humor and drama; an achievement that only a select few have done. Some Kind of Wonderful has all of the hallmarks of a John Hughes film - the outsider artists; a painter and part time mechanic Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) and his best friend and drummer Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). But it’s not directed by John Hughes, only written, and whatever that means, only Hughes seems to have the talent to pull off his work. This film feels just too serious compared to his other work.
Keith is soft spoken and easy going; an overall nice guy who's not interested in going to college no matter how often his blue collar dad wants to suggest it. Watts is a tomboy who many consider a lesbian, completely in love with Keith. This isn’t necessarily presented at the top, but it heats up quick enough when Keith starts crushing hard on the hottest girl in school, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), who while also from a blue collar home, is dating the most popular and richest guy in school, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer).
The scenario itself is great, as like many guys, I too crushed on the most popular and hottest girls in school, creating grand fantasies in my head about how we’d fall in love and go to prom, never realizing that we probably didn’t have a single thing in common to sustain even a long conversation. It’s a feeling that is so clear as an adult. If I was single and looking for a relationship, I can’t even imagine ever approaching it from the same direction; desiring a gorgeous person regardless of whether there’s anything more. It’s such a simple idea, and yet in high school, for some reason it’s incomprehensible; sure it’d be great to have someone cool, but it’s secondary to beauty. Similarly, I too have been friend zoned, holding a head over heels crush on a friend who was always with another guy; in which throughout the few high school years, there were dozens of tiny moments where you think they might come around, but never did.
The film offers the reality of these situations, with the fantastical scenario of both getting the dream girl and the friend zone working out for the best. The issue is that both scenarios don’t quite work with how they’re introduced and executed. It’s odd that Keith spontaneously develops this crush on Amanda, as even something as simple as the first day of the new school year could have helped the problem. It’s clear the crush has been going on for a while, but to the point where it felt almost stale. While Eric Stoltz plays the perfect stoic and offers an interesting type to fall for the beautiful popular girl, his reserved personality didn’t express the passion. It was as though it could have been anybody.
Watts' attraction is also a bit odd, as it doesn’t initially feel like she’s into Keith until he expresses his interest in Amanda and then it takes off like a rocket ship. From there she displays all the pain of unrequited love and jealousy, but by not feeling arbitrary, the tears feel empty (however real they were); as though it wasn’t love so much as she didn’t want to be left behind when Keith went off with Amanda.
The best performance and relationship comes the resident bad boy Duncan (Elias Koteas) who nearly gets into a fight with Keith, which sends the two to detention where they then form a lasting bond. The movie’s worth checking out for the performance alone. However, again, I was left wondering if I’m meant to accept that these two people have bumped into each other for the first time ever, and why this film couldn’t just take place on the first day of the school year to help support these random and seemingly new interactions.
From there, the film follows the usual Hughes formula. After a gawky attempt to ask Amanda out, he finally succeeds when Hardy can’t keep his hands off another girl. Watts makes just as many attempts to hint at her feelings for Keith, going so far as to offer to practice kissing him in preparation for the date with Amanda. The one moment that should have launched fireworks, but fell flat.
Keith makes the ridiculous choice to cash out his entire college fund to buy Amanda earrings which his dad had been bugging him about and takes Amanda out with Watts driving, taking the film into cringe territory and they end up at Hardy’s party that night so Keith can stand up to the guy and proclaim his love. Hardy asks his friends to beat him up, saved by Duncan and his fellow outcasts and while it takes me back to my 7th grade Hot Topic social clique feuds and how satisfying it’d be for the outcasts to win, Keith then realizes that he actually doesn’t love Amanda but actually Watts and runs off to kiss her. With a completely crooked foundation, the moment is a vapid dud. Not to mention that it doesn’t seem like Keith ever gets his college tuition money back, which his father had saved and given to him.
It was a bunch of tiny details that could have been corrected by Hughes. A look, a touch, a word - all those tiny moments he was master at creating. I don't think it could have achieved the level of Sixteen Candles, but maybe he didn’t either, and thus handed it off. There is potential there. Other than that, it’ll make you realize just how great of a director he was.
BELOW: Saved from a crash and burn by Elias Koteas
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