As far as important John Hughes’ films go, I have to reluctantly confess that, before this week, I’d never seen Some Kind of Wonderful, an embarrassing admission for a reviewer so unabashedly fond of Mr. Hughes. But in this case, the oversight serves me well, as I can objectively view a Hughes’ film without my judgment being clouded by nostalgia. I had no preexisting relationship with this film, nor any allegiances to the characters, so my perception is not colored.
Some Kind of Wonderful is not a particularly great movie, for all the reasons one might expect when viewing a 1987 film for the first time in 2010: It’s dated, cheesy, terribly directed, the music is painful, and the performances are mediocre, at best. There are no emotional transitions in this movie: The characters align around each other for inexplicable and unexplained reasons: Keith falls in love with Amanda just because; Watts realizes her love for Keith just because; Amanda develops an affection for Keith just because; and ultimately (*spoiler*), Keith decides that he loves Watts. Just because. There’s very little in the script or in the character’s actions to create a context for these romantic decisions. They happen, just because.
The film, like another John Hughes’ scripted flick, Pretty in Pink, comes from director Howard Deutch, who seemingly does all he can to wreck Hughes’ script. But as hard as he tries, and as little as the character motivations make sense, somehow, that John Hughes’ magic seeps through. Don’t ask me to explain how, because the John Hughes’ aura is confounding: He wrote simple scripts with conventional story lines, stock characters and predictable outcomes. But the Hughesian warmth somehow rises above and snatches your attention. It is those very stock characters and conventional storylines that make it work: Because of our familiarity with Hughesian situations, we can fill in the context ourselves and while the emotional transitions don’t take place on screen, we make those logical leaps in our minds.
Eric Stoltz is Keith, the sensitive outcast in the extreme: There’s zero dynamism in Stoltz’s character — he has one dimension, and it is: Speak softly. Keith is in love with Amanda (Lea Thompson) because Amanda is popular, and in the 80s, that’s all it takes in a high-school movie. He’s best friends with the much prettier tomboy (Mary Stuart Masterson), and — despite the short hair — the attraction discrepancy is stark. She’s beautiful and interesting, while Amanda is conventional-looking and popular. Amanda is in a troubled relationship with Hardy Jenns (Craigh Sheffer), stock bully character #1, who is rich, spoiled, and probably has a very tiny penis. Jenns likes to make out with other women, like Chynna Phillips, and dismisses Amanda’s distress as jealousy. Amanda eventually tires of Hardy’s shenanigans, and that’s exactly when Keith decides to ask her out. Amanda says yes because she wants to make Hardy jealous, and Keith goes home speaking softly with a huge grin on his face. Meanwhile, at that very moment, Watts decides that, “Hey! I must be in love with Keith because the script said so, right there on page 36.”
And thus the love triangle is established. The three characters spend much of the rest of the film treating each other poorly, which somehow endears them to each other. Because, presumably, the mistreatment is borne out of affection. Watts tells Keith that Amanda doesn’t really like him; that it’s a joke. Keith tells Watts to screw off. And Amanda strings Keith along, knowing that she’s really not all that interested in him. That somehow forms the basis for the affection triage.
How it works is a complete fucking mystery to me, but in the end, it does. It’s all the more mysterious because, as his date progresses with Amanda, Keith’s affection for her seems to intensify and vice versa, and up until the final seconds of the film, he never betrays his affection to her in favor of Watts, even though you know exactly how the long triangle will resolve itself.
I will say this, however: I don’t understand the father/college subplot, and the idea that Keith would blow his college savings on a pair of earrings is troubling to me. What? Does he want to work in a gas station for the rest of his life? Why is Hughes glorifying the decision to choose a girl over a future? The future is not bright for Keith — a middling painter — and Watts, a lackluster drummer. And in this case, their socioeconomic status does not do them any favors: They’re destined to repeat the lives of their parents.
I should also note that the best performance in this film belonged to Elias Koteas, the well-intentioned bully.
Some Kind of Wonderful is considered a bookend to Pretty in Pink, where Hughes decides to correct the mistake he made in the first film by now allowing Duckie to get the girl (or, in this case, Watts to get the boy). They’re both narratively and thematically similar movies, and the lead characters in both are also the least dynamic. It’s clear based on the outcomes in each movie that Hughes was writing these stories for women: In both movies, the underdog female wins. In Pretty in Pink, she ends up with the hunk; in Some Kind of Wonderful, he picks the pretty tomboy. It’s no wonder that so many women adore both movies; it’s teenage wish-fulfillment. But that’s part of the magic of John Hughes. He didn’t challenge us; he gave us what we wanted. If that sounds like a backhanded insult; it’s not. For most, high school was a miserable experience; Hughes consoled us a fairy-tale versions of that life.