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Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

by on 2011/02/12

“Break his heart, I’ll break your face.”

* * * *

I’m a fan of John Hughes, so it was a bit unusual Pretty in Pink didn’t do much for me. Maybe I found it too “girly”? Maybe, and yet I didn’t feel that way about Sixteen Candles, and that’s about as girly as they come.

Fortunately, someone else wasn’t completely happy with it either: John Hughes himself. Almost as soon as his earlier effort was released, he scripted a remake, inverting the male and female roles, and correcting the original’s shortcomings. Hardly flawless, but definitely an improvement.

In a sense, it had my loyalty from the first scene. The credits unroll over a montage, set to music so perfectly keyed to my tastes, I felt I might burst. I wasn’t familiar with the German group Propaganda back then. I only knew the theme, “Abuse” — an instrumental version of their single “Dr. Mabuse” — sounded like the distillation of everything I loved about the Art of Noise, Erasure, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Yello.

Unthinkably, the song didn’t appear on the soundtrack album, and I subsisted on a tape recording made by positioning a ghetto blaster in front of a television set. Further, our broadcast version didn’t include end credits so, for years, I assumed the song was called “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Stephen Hague.

Anyway, that kind of obsessiveness is probably just me. Another viewer could just as easily be caught by the usual Hughes conventions: teens struggling with matters of family, friends, the future, love, and school. As in Pretty in Pink, the narrative concerns a blue-collar protagonist admiring a conventionally attractive prospect from afar, while overlooking the obvious match close at hand.

Unlike Pretty in Pink, and many other Hughes movies, there’s no Molly Ringwald here, although Maddie Corman’s character strongly evokes a younger version of her. The cast features Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction) as Keith, Mary Stuart Masterson (Benny & Joon) as Watts, and Lea Thompson (Back to the Future) as Amanda. Supporting players include Craig Sheffer as Hardy, John Ashton (Beverly Hills Cop) as Keith’s father, and Elias Koteas, channelling Robert De Niro, as Duncan, the skinhead with a heart of gold.

Newer viewers may have a tougher time getting past the plentiful Eighties decoration. However, beyond the distractions of clothing, makeup, and music, the tale of a mechanic and aspiring painter still works well. The complex balance of interpersonal triangles, playground politics, and class wars is skillfully achieved without confusion or heavy-handedness.

My only serious concern is Keith remains unaccountably, even stubbornly, ignorant of his best friend’s affection for him, despite his insight, her demonstrated devotion, and their “kissing practice”. He fails to notice her only because the plot requires him not to notice her, a situation which feels frustrating and unnatural. I’m surprised Hughes and director Howard Deutch couldn’t have found a more elegant compromise between sense and suspense.

All in all, though, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of John Hughes’ more effective and affecting works, as much now as a generation ago. Its fashions may date it, but the themes do not. It will seem passe only to the forgetful, the loveless, and the dead. It really is somewhat wonderful . . . kind of.

* * * *

Rated PG13 for language

95 minutes

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