What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.
Viewing: First Time
John Hughes is one of those names that will forever be attached to the ’80s. He has written and/or directed some of the decade’s biggest critical and commercial hits from The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. In fact, Some Kind of Wonderful has a direct connection with Pretty in Pink, a film I will personally admit is my least favorite Hughes film.
For those who have not seen it, Pretty in Pink ends with Andie (Hughes regular Molly Ringwald) deciding to go with Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) instead of her best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer). However, that was not always the case. In the script, and original cut of the film, Andie ended up with Duckie, but due to test audiences responding negatively to this ending the film was reshot to have Andie end up with Blaine. This little bit of trivia has become well known, but what had remained hidden to me until today was that Some Kind of Wonderful was a direct result of that changed ending.
Hughes, unhappy that his version of the ending was changed, decided to essentially remake the film, only with the sexes of the main trio reversed. Instead of Pretty in Pink‘s Andie, Blaine, and Duckie we get Some Kind of Wonderful‘s Keith (Eric Stoltz), Amanda (Lea Thompson), and Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). Beyond the obvious story parallels between the trios (and Hughes’ weird obsession with giving the best friend a weird name), the actual plots diverge. Instead of Andie going to prom, the film focuses on Keith and his impending future. His father (John Ashton) wants him to finally decide on a college, so he can pursue a business degree. A fine career path for any high school senior. Only Keith is an artist. He would much rather go to an art school than a business school. His father refuses to listen to what Keith wants to do insisting that Keith will the first man in their family to go to college and not have to wash their hands after their work.
Keith’s best friend Watts, a tomboy drummer, is secretly in love with him, and desperately stuck in the friendzone. Masterson’s Watts embodies all the right characteristics of someone so enamored by another person who doesn’t feel the same way. Watts’ heartbreak is our heartbreak. Her anger is our anger. We are all looking at Keith and shouting at him, “Don’t you see what is right in front of you?” In many ways this is what puts Watts leagues ahead of Cryer’s Duckie. Duckie, who is an iconic character (and fashion statement) in his own right, will never have the audience’s side. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, but everyone is putting Duckie there. Perhaps Hughes learned that from the test audience changed ending of Pretty in Pink; your audience actually has to care and root for the best friend in order for them to truly succeed.
Watts’ competition is Thompson’s Amanda, a beautiful girl who rose to popularity thanks to the right connections. She grew up on the same poor side of town as Watts and Keith, but dating high school stud Hardy (Craig Sheffer) has given her the boost she thought she needed. Thompson plays Amanda with ease, no doubt thanks to the previous characters she had played evoking Amanda personalities (Lorraine Baines in Back to the Future, Beverly Switzler in Howard the Duck). In the same way Masterson makes us root for Watts, Thompson does the same for Amanda. Although, instead of wanting her to end up with Keith, we understand her need to go alone. Amanda does give glimpses of slight attraction to Keith, but you never feel like she is 100% onboard. However, Keith shows her that the reality she had been living in was false and that she needed time to figure things out on her own.
Stoltz, Thompson, and Masterson bounce off of each other with natural chemistry which is remarkable considering the road it took to sign on these three leads. Howard Deutch (who also directed Pretty in Pink and is married to Lea Thompson) was originally signed on to direct the film. He wanted to cast Michael J. Fox in the lead role as Keith, but Fox turned it down. I mention this because it is humorous to think that Fox and Stoltz almost butted heads again (Stoltz was the original actor cast for Marty McFly in Back to the Future before he was replaced with Fox). This time, Stoltz won out when Martha Coolidge was hired to direct. She cast Stoltz, Masterson, and Kyle MacLachlan as Hardy Jenns. Hughes had offered the role of Amanda to Molly Ringwald who turned it down to pursue more adult roles, although I would imagine starring in a film that is similar to Pretty in Pink might have been a bit weird for her. Kim Delaney was cast instead. However, a huge wrench was thrown into this body of actors when Pretty in Pink was released and became a huge commercial success. Hughes fired MacLachlan, Delaney, and director Coolidge, and brought back Deutch to direct. By this time, Howard the Duck had spectacularly failed and Thompson was looking for a role that would be a hit. Stoltz mentioned to her that the role of Amanda was available again leading her to sign on.
Some Kind of Wonderful is a film I connect with. Heartbreak and the future are two issues that affects us all, but this film feels oddly relevant for what I am currently feeling and going through. I’m not alone as Thompson has said how many people come up to her and tell her how much the film affected them. I think there are two really important lessons from Some Kind that I can pull out. 1) What you think you want isn’t always what you actually want. Sometimes, you might miss what is staring directly at you. 2) It is okay to walk alone for a while to figure out who you are. The key is to find yourself before you let others find you. I have connected with Hughes’ filmography at different points in my short life. The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller are two films that have offered me a good dose of advice over the years. Now, Some Kind of Wonderful has provided that same connection only I am resonating with the material much stronger.