Thursday, July 19, 2012

Throw-Back Movie Review: "Some Kind of Wonderful" by Ben Foutch

Release: 1987
Director: Howard Deutch
Writer: John Hughes
Stars: Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson, Craig Sheffer and Elias Koteas

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 95 min

Some Kind of Wonderful is one of the more overlooked films in the John Hughes section, which doesn't surprise me considering it shares a near identical story  to Pretty in Pink, albeit the gender role reversal and lack of Molly Ringwald's fashion coordinator. However, it's one of my favorite films from the legendary filmmaker, easily fitting into a top five position. While not as iconic, it is still infused with the heart and sense of realism that is expected from a Hughes film.

Keith (Eric Stoltz), an artistic loner, has a crush on the popular and adored Amanda (Lea Thompson). After seeing that she is having some relationship problems with her rich, manipulative boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), he decides to ask her out on a date. This doesn't sit well with his tomboy best friend, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), who has grown to like him more than a friend. Tension builds between the two of them as Keith begins spending more time fawning over Amanda, after she decides to take him up on his offer.

All of these teen or young adult centered films from the Hughes universe carry a similar theme. They basically have to deal with identity; where do I fit in, what am I suppose to be when I grow up, do you want to know what I'm really like behind these various masks? Pretty much your standard yet heavily relevant thoughts all of us have at some point in life. But out of all of his films, I can identify with Keith the most. He was never really aware of the present; always striving for some fantasy that in most cases is unattainable, or just not as fulfilling as the make believe scenarios that play out in his head. In essence, he is a dreamer. He gets what is most desired, but didn't find what he was looking for in Amanda. She was a vision that was placed on a pedestal, symbolizing his desire for something that he didn't really need. Status.


Status is another theme that drives this film, and many other films from Hughes. Amanda, who comes from a similar income as Keith, has an in with the popular, wealthy crowd because she is involved with one of their elite figures. She doesn't like to be controlled and manipulated by Hardy, but puts up with his crap in order to remain an important member of her social tribe. Keith on the other hand, thinks that he is in love with Amanda, but really just likes the idea of being with her because it would prove to everyone that he isn't a weird loser. The only two people who get a decent amount of screen time and are comfortable in their own skins are Watts and Duncan (Elias Koteas). I would have liked to have seen more of Elias Koteas because he shines in this rebellious type of role, but his character is used for one of the subplots, and doesn't really matter to the core part of the story. Still, you could see through the progression of the film that he had more underneath his hard exterior and wasn't a bad person like the fake, plastic Hardy.

The film doesn't necessarily attempt to try anything new, and is a little sappy in parts (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). It also wears the time period proudly, much like Watts's attire, but without being excessive. In true tradition of all things Hughes, the characters are the focal point. As an audience, we get to know them for people rather than stereotypes and are able to watch them grow throughout the course of the film.  And that is really what makes this more than your standard love story. Keith, Watts and Amanda are naturally developed, allowing you to understand their true motivations, progressing the standard "will they or won't they" paradigm without feeling obnoxiously formulaic. In fact, Keith and Amanda don't even have their first date until the final act, and barely converse before that. But that is mainly due to the payoff being constructed for its various subplots, especially concerning the final scene, which was the original ending planned for Pretty in Pink, and in this reviewer's opinion a much better one for this particular story.

Some Kind of Wonderful is an unappreciated gem that sort of fell through the cracks in the late 80's. It carries that special charm exhibited in most of Hughes's work and has the benefit of being more drama than comedy. After re-watching this a couple times in the past year it still holds up, maybe even more so than Pretty in Pink, which is a little too flamboyantly 80's for its own good. Yes it is just another love story, but shows passion and care for its characters rather than the process of turning a profit, which elevates it from obligatory studio releases that have clogged store shelves for generations.