Some Kind of Wonderful

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Pretty in Pink, released two years earlier, was such a success that eighties teen movie king John Hughes decided to give the love triangle in that film a bit of a gender shift. This time, we get arty outsider Keith (Stoltz) in love with the school's most popular girl, Amanda Jones (Thompson), not realising that his best friend and fellow outsider, Watts (Masterson), is in love with him.

But, that's not to say they're the same film. Oh no! There are many more subtle levels to Some Kind of Wonderful than there were to Pretty in Pink, although I accept that this is not a particularly difficult task. The main advantage that Some Kind of Wonderful has is the absence of Andrew McCarthy, surely the weakest - certainly the wettest - of the Brat Pack leading men. Eric Stoltz is not rugged by comparison, but at least he doesn't do that lip-pursing, eye-rolling face that McCarthy resorts to when required to show emotion.

But, enough of the limitations of Andrew McCarthy's doe-eyed acting technique. Artist Keith has decided that he can be accepted within the confines of the modern American high school if only he can engineer a date with Amanda Jones, whose character is always referred to by both names, so that when they play a remake of the Rolling Stones hit Miss Amanda Jones later on, we're all quite clear about it. In fact the Rolling Stones are a bit of a theme in SKOW, what with characters called Keith [Keith Richards] and Watts [Charlie Watts, the drummer, like Mary Stuart Masterson's character].

Anyway, to pursue his unattainable romantic interests, he enlists the mostly-unwilling help of his tomboy best friend, Watts. She is so overtly in love with him that you wonder how sensitive Keith can be as an artist if he's missed something this obvious right in front of his face. Watts has no time for Amanda or her ilk:

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

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Also helping out is school bully, Duncan (Koteas), whom Keith meets in detention and whose sole purpose appears to be to provide the comic relief in the film. Of course, Amanda already has a boyfriend - nasty, sneering rich kid, Hardy Jenns (Sheffer) - whose life revolves around looking good, cheating on Amanda and keeping the school social class system in order.

To say it's formulaic would be an understatement, but then part of the appeal of a John Hughes movie is exactly that: you know exactly what you're getting. Okay, so it requires a major suspension of disbelief, mainly because everyone looks way too old to be in high school, but there's a couple of decent performances lurking beneath the formula. The cynical tone of Keith's little sister (Maddie Corman) is a welcome relief from Keith's earnest demeanour. And Masterson is much spikier than other 1980s teen leads, bringing a touch of dysfunctional believability to a world that otherwise doesn't exist outside of John Hughes' mind.

Although it was one of the last and one of the less-popular 1980s teen comedies, it's an almost-perfect example of that genre. It takes the basic winning formula of Pretty in Pink, subtracts the two worst things about it (Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy), adds in some brilliance (Keith's family) and gives you the right ending. If Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the Citizen Kane of Brat Pack/John Hughes movies, then SKOW is its Philadelphia Story.

Buy it

Howard Deutch
John Hughes
Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Craig Sheffer, Lea Thompson, Elias Koteas
Release details:
Paramount, USA 1987, 1h 32m
1980s John Hughes
Our rating:
8 out of 10
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