Like most of us who were in high school in the 1980s, I saw John Hughes as the bard of my generation. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science -- those pictures elevated teenage angst and fantasy to the exalted level where we thought they rightly belonged. But then I went off to college, and my affection for the Hughes catalog began to wane. The flicks I had once championed now seemed too, well, too teenybopperish for sophisticated collegiate sensibilities. And so by the time Some Kind of Wonderful hit theaters in 1987, I didn't even see it. I had moved on.
The reissued DVD of Some Kind of Wonderful, part of the knockoff "I Love the 80's" series, offered me a long-belated chance to see whether I had given the flick and its producer-screenwriter short-shrift.
And, as it turns out, I had.
First, let's get the most urgent business out of the way. If Some Kind of Wonderful already is part of your collection, there's no need to read further. The only addition to this "I Love the 80's" edition is a four-song CD. Hardly seems worth the effort, does it?
That said, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of Hughes' better films. A gender reversal of 1986's Pretty in Pink, it follows Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz). Hailing from a lower middle-class family, Keith's modest background, reserved demeanor and talent for art make him an outcast in his high school class. But that doesn't prevent Keith, who works as a gas station attendant, from pining away for school babe Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). There's only one hitch; she is the girlfriend of popular ultra-jerk Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer).
Keith doesn't get much encouragement from his best friend, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), a cute, quirky tomboy who harbors a secret crush on our taciturn hero. Watts' warnings that Keith is only headed for trouble and humiliation fall on deaf ears. Instead, the boy scores a date with Amanda when she tries to make Hardy jealous. Needless to say, Hardy plots his revenge.
The movie's tale of romance amid socioeconomic barriers is not brain surgery, by any means, but director Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink) lets the melodrama play out with endearing earnestness. Granted, the picture is loaded with all the hallmarks of Hughes territory, from Keith's precocious younger sisters to the well-meaning dad who wants his children to have all the opportunities he didn't get. And, yes, the big hair and synth-happy musical score certainly date the picture as a relic of the Eighties. For whatever reason, however, the formula isn't cloying.
There is a surefootedness and (dare I say?) maturity in the writing and directing. Admirably character-driven, Some Kind of Wonderful even manages to tweak expectations. Keith Nelson is an appealing protagonist partly because he is a contradiction of sorts. He is sensitive and intelligent, but also caught up in the caste system of high school. "I like art. I work at a gas station. My best friend's a tomboy," Keith tells his dad. "These things don't fit too well in the American high school." Subsequently, his third-act plan to woo Amanda is as goofy as a squirrel on skates, but it seems perfectly apropos considering his hyper-awareness of high school's haves and have-nots.
As the object of Keith's affection, Amanda is another intriguingly ambivalent character. She is popular because of her looks, but she is not wealthy and therefore something of an imposter. The actors help immensely. Stoltz turns in a superbly understated performance, while Thompson, who adds shadings of complexity to her role, definitely delivers on her big emotional scenes.
Only Masterson doesn't appear to be up to the challenge. Although she's one of the few actors here who actually looks like she could be in high school, Masterson's performance is clunky and obvious, unfortunately lending the movie an occasional ABC after-school special vibe.
While I cannot attest to the quality of the movie's previous incarnations on DVD, I can say this print transfer appears adequate, if unremarkable. Presented in widescreen anamorphic 1:85.1, it is compromised by a softness that appears to be by design. Minor grain shows up in a few nighttime scenes.
Viewers can choose between 5.1 Surround and Dolby 2.0 Surround. The 5.1 is preferable, of course, but the mix is generally flat and unimaginative. An audio track in French is available. Only English subtitles are available.
The "I Love the 80's" version dispenses with extras on the previous collector's edition. As mentioned earlier, the only bonus is a CD with four iconic tracks from the '80s: "Lips Like Sugar" by Echo & the Bunnymen, "Chains of Love" by Erasure, "Need You Tonight" by INXS and "Take on Me" by a-ha.
One of John Hughes' better efforts, Some Kind of Wonderful is an earnest, affecting story bolstered by low-key performances and easy humor. This disc version, however, is some kind of mediocre. Save your money.