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Best of the 80s: Some Kind of Wonderful

December 2, 2009


“Well, I like art, I work in a gas station, my best friend is a tomboy. These things don’t fly too well in the American high school. ” – Keith (Eric Stoltz) in Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful, directed by Howard Deutsch and written by the late great John Hughes, is one of those 80s movies that most people have heard of, maybe even watched a couple of times, but for some reason it hasn’t become the cult hit it deserves, a la Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club.  Having said this, Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson can act the pants off of Molly Ringwald any day.   I’d also much rather spend and hour and a half looking at Eric Stoltz in comparison with, oh, Andrew McCarthy.

John Hughes called Some Kind of WonderfulPretty in Pink in reverse”.  This movie was his response to fans who thought that Andie should have ended up with Duckie in Pink.   Wonderful has a very similar setup:  Boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with popular, unreachable girl, neglecting to see that his tomboy best friend is pining away for him the entire time.

I can't afford to have you hate me, Keith. The only things I care about in this life are me and my drums and you.

Thanks to the acting and a deft screenplay by Hughes, this film succeeds in being more than just a “modified sequel”.  Stoltz’s Keith is a kid from a loving family who just wants to be an artist (something his blue collar father cannot understand).  He works a part time job fixing classic cars in one of those “antique” looking ,family-owned garages that only seem to exist in the movies.  His best friend is the tomboy drummer Watts, whose only real family is Keith.   Keith is obsessed with the popular girl Amanda Jones, whose boyfriend Hardy Jenns is the classic movie creep (think  shades of James Spader’s Steff in Pretty in Pink) – rich, condescending and ready to hire his buddies to beat any other potential suitors to a pulp.   He would never get his own hands dirty, however.

Hughes wisely stays away from stereotypes in casting and writing both the female leads.  Thompson’s Amanda is surprisingly warm, caring, and willing to give up her own popularity in the end of the film to retain her sense of self.  Masterson’s tomboy never has to resort to the movie cliche of “dressing like a girl” and getting the obligatory makeover montage in order to prove her worth to Keith.

Hughes’s screenplay makes some shrewd comments about teenage life in the spotlight  and all the pressures that come with it.  Watts comments about Keith’s love for Amanda’s looks, saying,

Watts: It must be a drag to be a slave to the male sex drive.
Keith: It’s not just sex.
Watts: Oh, you want to start a book club with her?

Elias Koteas, as Duncan, the  thug with a soul who aids Keith in his quest to land Amanda Jones, steals most of the scenes he’s in.  Check out the scene in the beginning of the movie when the school principal catches him with a bottle of Jack Daniels, cigarettes, and a naughty card deck.   The principal gives him detention.  Duncan doesn’t know how lucky he is – detention?  He’s lucky he wasn’t expelled.    Later on in the film, he busts up bad boy Hardy’s party, saying, “We’re gonna bring this party up to a nice respectable level. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna hurt anyone. We’re not even gonna touch ’em. We’re just gonna make ’em cry a little, just by lookin’ at ’em.”

I think it's safe to say that this party is about to become a historical fact.

Overall,  out of all the John Hughes-penned films, Some Kind of Wonderful has the most heart, which is why it qualifies as one of the Best of the 80s.  Hughes also pays tribute to The Rolling Stones in this film.  Keith and Watts are both named after band members, and Amanda Jones after one of the Stones’ most immortal songs.

Up Next on Best of the 80s:  Just One of the Guys – where Joyce Hyser tried to convince the 80s that she could pass for a guy…

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