On August 14, 1987, I went to the movie theatre with my sister. Somehow, I remember all the details of that day.
The multiplex was divided into three buildings. Screens 1-4 were in the first building, 5 and 6 in the second, and 7-10 were in a third.
My sister and her friend went into that third building to see the new Madonna film WHO’S THAT GIRL. And, I went into the second.
I bought my ticket and went to the concession stand where a mom was there with her kids, all excited about going to see another new movie, the Fat Boys feature DISORDERLIES. I went to the other screen, to see another new release.
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE.
I wasn’t really expecting a great film. I thought it was going to be a little comedy. My main reason for seeing it was the star, Amanda Peterson. Having loved her on the then recent mini-series A YEAR IN THE LIFE and in the film EXPLORERS, I really wanted to see the film. (You can read much more about Amanda in this piece I wrote).
The film began.
As it opens, we see the Touchstone logo, and then the movie production company logo, with some music that eventually segues into the Beatles’ song.
Ronald Miller (a pre-McDreamy Patrick Dempsey) is mowing a lawn. He stops and a VW pulls into the driveway. Out of the car comes Cindy Mancini (Amanda) and her friends. They have been shopping.
She meets her mother at the door, who is upset by her using her credit cards.
“Why can’t you be more responsible, like the Miller boy?”
She points to Ronald, who is in the process of getting grass clippings blown all over him, so Cindy laughs it off ("Get serious.") and walks inside.
If you’ve seen the film, you know what happens later. The unpopular Ronald pays head cheerleader Cindy to be his girlfriend for one month. He hopes to become popular and thinks this will improve his chances.
But despite the premise, the film manages to be a lot more than that.
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE is the most honest and realistic look at teen life in the 1980’s. I was in high school at the time and the film felt like I was watching a documentary.
Unlike the John Hughes films, this wasn’t some sort of fairy tale, where everyone just had to be locked into a room together to become good friends. Not that I didn’t love some of the Hughes film, but they were not realistic.
LOVE takes a whole different approach.
Early on, there is a scene where Ronald has a discussion with his best friend Kenneth (Courtney Gains) asking why they weren’t friends with some of the athletes, even though they used to be.
Kenneth responds “That was because we were all forced to be in the same room together. But then came junior high, high school. Forget it. Jocks became jocks, cheerleaders became cheerleaders, we became us. I like us.”
That basically sums up the whole progression of friendships that most people had in school. As the grades advanced, people developed who they were to become, and they moved into different groups.
One thing that LOVE gets right, the people were just in different groups. They weren’t sworn enemies or anything. Ronald and his friends weren’t constantly being bullied by the popular groups. They just didn’t socialize.
After that first viewing, I saw the film twice more theatrically. I wanted to see it more, but it got to be difficult.
While it was still in theatres, I got a call from one of my friends wanting to go to the movies.
“How about CAN’T BUY ME LOVE?” I asked.
“Uhhh, no. That isn’t a movie two guys go to see together.” He replied.
We went to see some action film. But, I felt like I was cheating on LOVE, since it was still in theatres.
I saw the film countless more times on video, cable, network TV, laserdisc and DVD.
The film even aired as part of the DISNEY SUNDAY MOVIE, where it was introduced by then Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Donald Duck, where Eisner asked Donald “So, were you popular?”
The film was released a few years ago on DVD, with no extras, and not even a widescreen transfer. It is due for an upgrade.
I can honestly say that I could sit down and record a commentary for the film. I’ve seen it so often, analyzed the film so closely, followed everything about the release, that I’m probably more qualified than any other critic out there to talk about it.
A couple years ago, the film was remade as LOVE DON’T COST A THING. The resulting film was terrible. It is as different in quality to LOVE as the music they take the title from. It went from being based on a Beatles song, to a film based on a J. Lo song.
One scene that pretty much sums up the difference between the two happens early on.
Cindy’s boyfriend has graduated and gone off to play college football. He is being interviewed on TV and Cindy and her friends are watching. At one point, the announcer asks if there is anything he misses back home. The girls get excited that he is going to mention Cindy, but instead he mentions something about the locker room.
The girls are upset, but Cindy tells them it isn’t a big deal. That he has a lot going on. That gets them to calm down and they all leave.
Cindy goes to grab her jacket, her boyfriend’s varsity jacket, looks at it, and then puts it down.
That scene tells you all about Cindy’s character. She outwardly has the power over her friends, able to convince them about how she feels. Yet, inside, she is hurt by the comment. It is a very quick, yet essential scene to show her character, and how in control she is.
In the remake? The same setup happens, the boyfriend, now in the NBA, is interviewed on TV. But, when he doesn’t mention Cindy? All three start yelling at the screen. No depth. Nothing about her character. Just a cheap joke.
The remake goes downhill from there.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
While we all know what has happened to Patrick Dempsey, not everyone in the rest of the cast has had his career.
Seth Green, of ROBOT CHICKEN, BUFFY, and countless films like CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, played Ronald’s younger brother. What is funniest about his casting is that he is even closer in age to Peterson than Dempsey is.
For a while, one of the biggest stars from the film was Gerardo Mejia, who would record the early 90’s hit “Rico Suave”. He was one of the football players.
Max Perlich, as one of Ronald’s friends, is a popular independent film actor. He also starred in BEAUTIFUL GIRLS.
Courtney Gains (Kenneth) is still very active. He is probably best known for his role on SEINFELD as the video store clerk who rents ROCHELLE, ROCHELLE to George.
Dennis Dugan, who plays Ronald’s father, is a successful director, directing many of Adam Sandler’s films, including HAPPY GILMORE.
Director Steve Rash has done a lot of direct to video films, including some of the sequels to AMERICAN PIE and BRING IT ON (where he cast Big John, Eric Brosketter).
In only a couple scenes as a cheerleader, Ami Dolenz had a brief run as a direct to video star in the 90’s.
Writer Michael Swerdlick (who partially based the film on his life) went on to write for TV series such as WHO’S THE BOSS and DOOGIE HOWSER.
And then there is Amanda Peterson. I’ll refer you again to my “What Ever Happened to” story about her from a few months back, but she hasn’t made a film since the mid 90’s. Her whereabouts are unknown, and much speculated about.
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE stands though as one of the best, smartest, and most realistic teen films of the 1980’s. Watching it is like going back to high school. I remember once sitting in a class looking around the room and seeing every “type” that was in the film.
It gets everything right, which is so rare in any film.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Posted by TALKING MOVIEzzz at 7:45 AM