Sunday, July 26, 2015

80's Watch: Weird Science (1985)

Ah. John Hughes.  What exactly happened to you in high school, man?

What's weirdest, Mr. Hughes, is that it's the filter through which you experienced your formative years, applied to a very small handful of films, either created or so reflected a vision so all-consuming that its seemed to rewrite reality for your audience, leading decades of suburban kids to believe your movies have something, anything, to do with reality, and rewriting how movies and TV would portray high school, and allow all of us to cast ourselves as the outcast and the geek.  Hell, we all knew we were Cameron, not Ferris.  And that was the point.

Pretty clearly, Mr. Hughes, your perspective is that of a highly privileged suburban Chicagoan, something that is both incredibly specific and still enough part of fly-over country and enough a part of the generic American public school experience that we can't help but recognize the surroundings and relate a little when we see a gym with kids in PE dress-out uniforms* or the lockers along the hallway.  Even if the same public missed the point during those test screenings of Pretty in Pink and insisted on the wrong happy ending (which I imagine must have killed you inside, Mr. Hughes).   

Maybe in middle-school we believed it, but even by high school, we knew it was never as simple as the jock, the nerd, the princess, the criminal and the freak.

And no one like Gary and Wyatt had no friends, as the movie posits (even Brian of The Breakfast Club and Farmer Ted had their nerd clans, implicitly and explicity).  Maybe they perceived other people as having more friends, but they were decent enough average dweebs with, really, pretty good hair and likable enough to be the featured characters of a movie.  It's hard to believe that two such harmless, affable fellows weren't in a school full of psychopaths if they couldn't find a social circle beyond just each other (but, then, weren't we all surrounded by psychopaths?).  I get that it's high school writ large, its a cartoon, but...  something made you write this, and something made us buy it.

Still, I like John Hughes movies, even now (and he only ever directed four teen-starring films, eight total) .  And not just for nostalgia's sake.  Weird Science (1985) doesn't get caught up in the self-involved melodrama.  It's genuinely funny, in no small part due to Bill Paxton as Chet, the jug head older brother, and Kelly LeBrock's curiously sly performance as the Galatea stand-in.  But Hughes' writing and directing is (though, now, dated to the point of mid-tier offensiveness) pretty darn funny.  His sense of the absurd, or playing broad while still retaining a bit of specificity with our lead characters, is part of how these films work so well.  After all, at age 17 (and perhaps beyond), we can't begin to see the world five feet away from us as much more than an absurd inconvenience.

Still, the movie is about two fifteen year old boys who make Kelly LeBrock with a magical computer accident (it was the 1980's), and somehow learn to... do... something.  Weird Science grasps for us to understand the plight of Wyatt, a guy who's biggest problem seems to be he has no balls, whatsoever.  At least Gary is willing to indulge in some fantasy, Wyatt finds even that a little risky.   It's not entirely clear, but we're certainly told they went on a journey that, through a series of events including drinking with older black gentlemen, going to the mall and then having a party makes them... popular?  Sexually attractive?  Brave?  Choose one, because the movie suggests that somehow those things occur despite any evidence of any sort of growth. Oh, and part of this journey occurs by absolutely not having sex with their creation.  Absolutely not that.

Sure, the movie would have entered unspeakably dark or porn-y realms had any consummation occurred, so we'll ignore that dodge, because that is not the story Hughes wants to tell.  He's interested in a tale about how a magical, beautiful super-smart genie turns our leads from two guys who hide in the bathroom to two guys who land two incredibly shallow-seeming young ladies in the wake of a ginned-up assault by fantastic wasteland mutants.  

It is a high school fantasy, a silly one, one that freely admits a 15 year old doesn't/ will not know what to do with what they think they want.  But it just holds together about as well as papier-mache in a monsoon.  The biggest problem is that the two guys never really solve anything themselves, from Wyatt's issues, to overcoming their bullies to just talking to a girl without relying on a life-scarring traumatic experience for an opening.

in some ways, Hughes perfectly understands what it was to be 15

Luckily, the movie moves along at a brisk pace, has enough visual gags and funny moments that you don't really notice or care.  I mean, who doesn't find the grandparents hilarious?  Or Chet?  Or an MX missle appearing in the house?  Or a hundred other jokes?

I dunno.  Because the movie still sort of works once you let go and just assume we all learned something here, and not just that Kelly LeBrock was asked to wear a lot of incredibly 1985-ish outfits (a near Joan-Crawford-esque architecture to women's clothing was in at the time, lest we forget).

What's odd is that it seems Hollywood didn't know what to do with Kelly LeBrock in the wake of this movie.  Certainly she became instantly recognizable, and she did those "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" make-up ads for years afterward, but she just sort of disappeared.  And the funny thing is, she really is pretty funny and at least as competent as, say, your Liz Hurleys out there, to name another British model/ actress.   I mean, women weren't headlining a lot of comedies in the 1980's unless they were Bette Midler, but I can't figure the five year gap in her acting history between this movie and the honestly unintentionally hilarious Hard to Kill with her then husband... sigh... Steven Seagal.  

The movie also features brat-packer Robert Downey Jr., an actor nobody ever heard from ever, ever again.

*really, you do seem weirdly obsessed with PE outfits


Anonymous said...

Can you review "Better Off Dead" next?

The League said...

I'm not saying we won't watch that movie, but there are dozens of factors that play into what we watch and when. But I will say - Friday nights at my house are "dumb movie night". We refuse to watch anything challenging or serious, and I already have "One Crazy Summer" queued, so "Better Off Dead" is a likely candidate as well.

The League said...

Huh. "Better Off Dead" is not readily available on Netflix or Amazon. Maybe someone decided a wacky comedy about high school suicide wasn't what they wanted in their portfolio?

RHPT said...

Have you reviewed Real Genius?

The League said...

It's in the Friday queue

J.S. said...

Well, you might not have learned anything from Weird Science, but for me, Bill Paxton laid the foundation for a lifelong understanding of what it means to be a big brother.

The League said...

The only difference between you and Chet was that you called me "Dummy" rather than "Butthead".