Released in 1987, Some Kind of Wonderful was the caboose of the John Hughes teenage train, and as a result, it has ended up being his most underrated film in the genre. It's often derided as a retread of Pretty in Pink, but the reality of it is it's not really a retread, but rather, the male flipside. Writer/producer Hughes and director Howard Deutch return to the same plot idea: a love triangle between a creative, lovelorn romantic from the wrong side of the tracks, the best friend, and the dream date who floats through a different social clique. Instead of a redheaded girl fantasizing about the prom, Some Kind of Wonderful is about a redheaded artist, Keith (Eric Stoltz), who dreams of being with the most beautiful girl he could ever paint, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). The one thing he is oblivious to is the best friend of the opposite sex who is absolutely in love with him, in this case a punk rock drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). The approach is a tad more serious than Pretty in Pink, and the fairy-tale ending is a happily-ever-after of a different color.
When Keith asks Amanda out and she says yes, to most people he has done the impossible. Though not a rich girl herself, Amanda dates the richest jerk in school, Hardy (Craig Sheffer). His ego bruised, Hardy poses a real threat to Keith's well-being, but not one to lie down and take it, Keith decides to continue to buck the system and take Amanda out anyway. He rightly believes that she would never intentionally hurt him, and it's to John Hughes' credit that he doesn't make Amanda a villain. She's aware of her position in the world and how people perceive her. By the same token, Keith isn't all noble ideals either. He may be a little too concerned with how he's perceived, and Amanda becomes his revenge on the boys who made him feel small. He was the kid who was never let in the club, and Amanda is his key of entrance.
This same headstrong nature is also Keith's real virtue. He's the little guy with big dreams. His father (John Ashton, Beverly Hills Cop) is riding him to go to college, but Keith would rather stick to art. He's not about pursuing what other people think he should, he's going to pursue what he thinks is right for himself. Taking a chance on Amanda symbolizes his first step towards taking the reins of his own life. To snatch a victory from the humiliation of Hardy's scheme to beat him up, he will craft the ultimate date and charm Amanda into realizing he's the right kind of guy for her. Stoltz lends Keith a heartfelt sincerity, and he charms the audience just as much as he charms Amanda. Lea Thompson is the perfect recipient of his affections. Amanda begins defiant, but she softens to Keith's gestures, and seeing the honesty of his emotion, she is inspired to face the compromises she has made to hang with the upper crust.
Only, it's not just about Keith and Amanda.
Just like Duckie took over as the heart and soul of Pretty in Pink, so does Watts capture the audience of Some Kind of Wonderful. Instead of being the school joker, she's the insecure girl who hides behind a tough rocker image because she can't express herself to Keith. Her attempts to stop Keith from getting his heart broken while he breaks hers is emotionally wrenching for anyone who has had to watch the object of their affection chase the wrong thing. Watts is going to take this one step further, however; rather than stay home and brood, imagining all the love she's not going to be a part of, she puts herself in the line of fire. She helps Keith practice kissing, and it unleashes some kind of masochistic streak in her. She'll go with him every step of the way, aiding him in choosing the jewelry he will give to Amanda and dressing as a chauffeur to drive them around on their evening. In doing this, Hughes has found a note-perfect way to show the depth of her feeling. It kills us to see her suffer, and every pang of love that zings through her registers on her face.
Mary Stuart Masterson is amazing at capturing Watts' fragility while also showing what a fun girl she would be to hang out with. Like Jon Cryer with Duckie, it's the perfect meeting of role and actor. I've known plenty of girls who've adopted Watts as their heroic icon. Movies don't often enough take notice of the smart girls who stand off to the side, unwilling to accept the enforced images of femininity. Many jokes are made about Watts' alleged tomboyishness, but any guy worth his salt who watches Some Kind of Wonderful is going to see how much of a girl she really is.
As this plays out, Some Kind of Wonderful is further enhanced by a great supporting cast. Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line) is hilarious as Duncan, the smart-mouthed skinhead who starts off harassing Keith but ends up being his friend. Every time he is on screen, all eyes turn to him; even the actors seem amazed by him. Keith also has a little sister (Maddie Corman) who likes to bust his chops while also using the upgraded social position his date has given Keith to advance herself. Yet, she still looks out for her brother when she sees things not going his way. When it comes down to it, Keith is a pretty nice guy, and the people around him want to see his gutsy moves pay off.
Thankfully, Keith makes the right choice in the end, and it validates the support that both his friends and us in the audience have thrown his way. What makes it better is he figures it out on his own. He could have easily gone in the other direction and stayed the course, and it would have probably worked out for him. It's all the more romantic for his seeing true love when it's standing in front of him, and the final kiss is a soaring moment. It gets me every time.
Some Kind of Wonderful was released on DVD for the first time four years ago. This new reissue, newly dubbed a Special Collector's Edition, has the bonus features the original disc was lacking, and it was released in tandem with Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition, an anniversary upgrade of its sister film (reviewed here). Even though this maintains the link between the two movies, Some Kind of Wonderful can withstand the comparison. Revisiting it only proves that it holds its own amongst the John Hughes filmography. It's not just a romance, it's the story of several underdogs who are finally going to get theirs. They'll all three get a glimpse of the other side and learn to appreciate that the greener grass is actually under their feet. That this realization comes with a huge, sloppy kiss is just a bonus.
Interestingly enough, when I compared the souped up version of Pretty in Pink to the 2002 edition, I noted that oversaturated colors had been toned down. In the case of Some Kind of Wonderful, the 2002 edition had a darker transfer than the 2006 Special Collector's Edition. In both cases, the new discs end up in the same color area, at a level a little more natural. Compare this sunshiny scene from early in the movie.
2002 Edition vs. 2006 Edition
Second is a nighttime scene.
2002 Edition vs. 2006 Edition
It's looking like the older edition was too dark, and the newer one is lightened to show the proper values.
In reality, they are likely the same widescreen transfer, but slightly color corrected in the mastering, perhaps? There also appears to be less edge enhancement, less wavy lines.
Also, expect a slight layer shift 56 minutes and 30 seconds into the movie.
Two mixes: 5.1 and 2.0. It's the same sound quality as the original DVD, and given that they got it right the first time, no improvement was needed.
Even though Paramount has upheld the same prejudice with Some Kind of Wonderful and not given it the extensive supplements created for Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition (hell, this DVD doesn't even get the obnoxious title or the cardboard slipcase), there are still a handful of behind-the-scenes features for the Hughes fan to enjoy.
* The Making of Some Kind of Wonderful: A nice introduction to the movie and how it was all put together, including on-set tidbits like the fact that Howard Deutch and Eric Stoltz did not get along. Both of them participate, as does Mary Stuart Masterson and Lea Thompson. (8 minutes)
* Meet the Cast: Archival interviews are interlaced with current ones to discuss each actor and how they came to be in the movie. John Ashton, Maddie Corman, and Molly Hagan (Amanda Jones' judgmental friend in the movie) are also interviewed for this. (13 minutes)
* The Music: A run-through of the various songs that were in the movie, and how they were chosen. Hughes explains the importance of music to his process, including the fact that he made soundtracks for himself when writing each of his scripts. For the record, I'm a huge fan of "Can't Help Falling in Love," and the Lick the Tins version used at the end of Some Kind of Wonderful may even be better than Elvis Presley's. (5 minutes)
* John Hughes Time Capsule: An interesting curiosity! Kevin Bacon interviews John Hughes (maybe they were making She's Having a Baby at the time) about his filmmaking style, the themes that concern him, and also a little big about the writer/director's background. (11 minutes)
Rounding out this section is a gallery of promotional stills and a handful of trailers. These trailers also play before the movie, and even when selecting them from the Special Features menu, they play back-to-back, you can't select which one. The Special Features also lack a "play all" function. Even worse, why can't we get the awesome teaser trailer for Some Kind of Wonderful? It's mentioned in one of the documentaries, and little clips of it are shown. I remember seeing it when I was 15, when it aired before Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It was just Watts drumming, the names of the actors and the title of the film, and a promise that it was coming soon, and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. "Soon" could not arrive fast enough for me.
The last bonus on the Some Kind of Wonderful: Special Collector's Edition is a tandem commentary with Howard Deutch and Lea Thompson. Though they did not have an on-set romance, the pair later married, had kids, and is still together. Thompson only speaks intermittently, but her presence gets Deutch to open up a bit more. He gets into the scenes in more detail than he did on Pretty in Pink: Everything's Duckie Edition, and sometimes it's fun when the couple remembers things differently and have to sort them out.
Highly Recommended. Though I would have liked to see even more detail in the extras department, the Some Kind of Wonderful: Special Collector's Edition is a vast improvement over the previous DVD of this underrated gem. John Hughes capped his teen love stories with one of his most romantic and, when it comes to the characters, possibly his most complex. With excellent performances by Lea Thompson, Eric Stoltz, and most notably, Mary Stuart Masterson and Elias Koteas, Some Kind of Wonderful is a more exciting movie than most people remember. Take a chance and refresh your memory.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.