Film Review: Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

Also known as: Boy Rents Girl (alternative title)
Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Steve Rash
Written by: Michael Swerdlick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, Dennis Dugan, Tina Caspary, Darcy DeMoss, Cort McCown, Eric Bruskotter, Courtney Gains, Seth Green, Ami Dolenz

Apollo Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, Touchstone Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“What happened to us? We were all friends in elementary.” – Ronald Miller, “That’s because we were all forced to be in the same room together. But, hey, Junior high, high school. Forget it. Jocks became Jocks. Cheerleaders became cheerleaders. We became us. I like us.” – Kenneth Wurman

I always had a soft spot for this ’80s teen comedy but I guess I never realized how good it is when compared to all of the other films like it. Outside of the work of John Hughes and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this one is probably the best of the lot.

This is a movie that carries a real message and does a fantastic job of delivering that message through the journey of its main character.

It’s also a message that’s timeless and maybe even more relevant today, as so many young people are willing to give anything just for their fifteen seconds of fame. Social media has probably just made this more of an issue, as “going viral” is a lifegoal of too many young people.

The story is about a geek named Ronald that has a hard time understanding why half of his friends from elementary school became the cool kids in high school and why he and his other buds are dorks, pushed away from the cool circle. He is also crushing hard on the most popular girl in school. When she finds herself in a bad financial situation, he bails her out. But he does so with the agreement that she’ll date him for a month, as he believes it will make him cool.

Of course, things can’t be that simple. While he does become “cool”, he turns his backs on his geeky friends and even breaks the heart of the popular girl he was in love with in the first place. As the story rolls on, his ruse is exposed and everything backfires. With that, he has to find a way to be himself, fix his old friendships and earn back the cool girl, who fell in love with the sweet guy she knows is inside Ronald.

As a young person, I got the message of the film loud and clear and it’s a simple one but this movie does a pretty good job of letting it play out in a lot of different ways, showing how it effects Ronald in every facet of his life, as well as the other kids around him.

Additionally, I think it’s a good message. High school aged kids generally want the same thing Ronald wanted but it’s important to understand the cost and what being “cool” actually means.

While this doesn’t have the magic of John Hughes best pictures, I think it is as well written as his high school movies and that’s why I consider it to be in the same ballpark of quality for ’80s teen comedies.

I like Patrick Dempsey in this but it’s Amanda Peterson that stole the show for me. I wish she had gotten better work after this film but she retired from acting in the mid-’90s, moved back home to Colorado and her life tragically went to shit until she died of an overdose in 2015.

Sorry to end this on a sad note but it’s kind of a punch to the gut when watching this film, knowing what happened to the high school goddess in real life.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s teen comedies.

Film Review: Parenthood (1989)

Release Date: July 31st, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Ron Howard
Music by: Randy Newman
Cast: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Hulce, Jason Robards, Harley Jane Kozak, Eileen Ryan, Helen Shaw, Jasen Fisher, Paul Linke, Alisan Porter, Ivyann Schwann, Zachary La Voy, Alex Burrall, Charmin Lee, Dennis Dugan

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“It sounds like a boy Garry’s age needs a man around the house.” – Helen, “Well, it depends on the man. I had a man around. He used to wake me up every morning by flicking lit cigarettes at my head. He’d say, “Hey, asshole, get up and make me breakfast.” You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” – Tod

Man, this movie is great.

There are a lot of large family comedies that have been made over the years but for whatever reason, this is the one that hits all the right notes for me.

That’s probably due to when it came out and how old I was then, as well as how incredibly superb the cast is. All of them are loveable in their own way, even the shitty black sheep son that only comes around when he’s in serious trouble.

The thing is, anytime that Steve Martin and Rick Moranis get together, the results are pretty satisfying. However, when you add in Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Tom Hulce, Jason Robards, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton and a young Joaquin Phoenix, it maximizes the overall positive impact and gives you so much great talent to enjoy.

What makes this movie so perfect is that it features so many people but each one of them gets a fairly equal amount of time to let their story be told. In fact, the multiple plot threads are really well-balanced and when they merge, at times, it all flows pretty smoothly. Writing big ensemble stories like this can be a real challenge but the writers succeeded and Ron Howard, who directed this, had great material to work with.

I think a lot of credit also has to go to the editor, who kept this thing moving at a good pace and who handled the transition between plot threads pretty seamlessly.

Ultimately, though, this is a picture with a lot of heart and I feel like most people can find it relatable. Even if you don’t have all of these character types in your own family, I think we all have at least a few. Furthermore, these character tropes are all pretty timeless and even if this has that ’80s movie vibe to it, it’s still kind of timeless.

Additionally, the movie is well-acted from top-to-bottom, including the kid actors.

Parenthood is one of the best movies of its type. Personally, it’s my favorite but I’m also a big fan of all the key players in the film. And frankly, I can watch it just about anytime and it’ll lift my spirits even if I’m in a funk.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other family-centric comedies but this one takes the cake.

Film Review: Problem Child (1990)

Release Date: July 26th, 1990 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: John Ritter, Michael Oliver, Amy Yasbeck, Michael Richards, Gilbert Gottfried, Jack Warden, Dennis Dugan (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes, 93 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“We’ve adopted Satan!” – Little Ben Healy

This is another movie I liked a lot as a kid. However, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy it as an adult. I was wrong.

Problem Child weirdly impressed me, as there is real heart to the story when you look past all the absurdity and goofiness of the picture. Sure, it’s hokey, cheap and what many would consider low brow but it’s also a really human story about a terror of a kid that just never knew love and finds it in the one person that truly doesn’t want to just throw him away.

The film is also infinitely made better by just how good the entire core cast is.

John Ritter was perfect as the all-American guy that just wanted to be a dad and was willing to take this kid in and try to be a good father figure to him in spite of the kid’s antics and terrible track record.

Amy Yasbeck was superb as the mother character, who didn’t really want the kid as much as she wanted the neighborhood status that came with being a middle class suburban mommy.

We also get Jack Warden, as the asshole, selfish grandfather that cares more about his mayoral campaign than his family, and Michael Richards, as a deranged serial killer that the kid idolizes and wants to run away with. Gilbert Gottfried also shows up in a few scenes and he’s perfect, simply playing himself in the most Gilbert Gottfried role of all-time.

I was really impressed by Michael Oliver as the kid, though. He’s just a natural when it comes to comedy, timing and facial expressions. He also has a great, evil laugh that makes his character even better. Most kid actors wouldn’t have been able to do half as well as he did and I’m surprised that he didn’t do much beyond the first two Problem Child movies.

On the surface, this is a cheap comedy that is mostly just a series of gags with a thin narrative holding it all together. However, within that thin narrative, the movie still finds a way to connect with the audience in an emotional way. It’s kind of cool, actually, as it keeps this from being just some outdated, pointless, crude comedy relic.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as UHF for some great pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards shenanigans.