I am a connoisseur of high school films. I see myself in every character, from Cher to Ferris to Bill and Ted. Their loves are my loves, their passions are my passions, their angst is my angst. And while I can defend all sorts of terrible teen fare, including “Cruel Intentions” (Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance is incredible!) and “She’s the Man” (Amanda Bynes is funny, really!), I’m the first to admit that the pinnacle of teen cinema was reached in the 1980s, and that the genre has been steadily spiraling downwards ever since.
John Hughes’ oeuvre represents the golden age of teen movies. Between 1984 and 1987 he wrote and/or directed a string of classics, starting with “Sixteen Candles” and ending with the brilliant but oft-forgotten “Some Kind of Wonderful.” It’s impossible to talk about “Some Kind of Wonderful” without mentioning 1986’s “Pretty in Pink.” In it, Molly Ringwald is Andie, a winsome working-class ingénue who falls for uptown boy Blane while completely ignoring Duckie (Jon Cryer from “Two-and-a-Half Men”), her devoted best friend. Andie sews her own new wave clothes from charity shop salvages while Blane drives a Beemer and wears linen suits, always a recipe for disaster in the world of teen movies. Blane dumps her just before the prom. Hughes’s original ending had Andie going stag, and ending the night in the arms of Duckie, at last. But the test audiences didn’t appreciate the implied message about the futility of inter-class romance, and the ending was hastily re-shot, with Andie forgiving Blane at the prom, and Duckie getting a condolence prize in the form of an anonymous hot girl.
While the new ending of “Pretty in Pink” succeeded in communicating the not-at-all-clichéd message that Love Conquers All, John Hughes wasn’t happy. So he set about writing the same story again—with one big twist. The result was “Some Kind of Wonderful.” This time, it’s artsy poor boy, Keith, played by Eric Stoltz, who becomes fixated upon Amanda Jones, the most popular girl in school, much to the chagrin of his love-struck best friend, Watts. Mary Stuart Masterson steals the film as Watts, Keith’s ever-admiring tomboy sidekick, who tortures herself by giving him dating tips and offering to help him practice kissing. Eric Stoltz is appropriately dreamy; and Lea Thompson’s Amanda Jones is fleshed out far further than the two dimensional Blane from “Pretty in Pink.” She’s not from a wealthy family herself, but her looks cause her to be adopted by the school’s rich kids, whose approval she desperately craves. Overall, the three main characters in “Some Kind of Wonderful” are far more appealing than their parallels in “Pretty in Pink,” but it’s the ending that clinches it. Keith realizes that while he’s been lusting after the body and associated status of Amanda Jones, it’s the faithful Watts he really loves. Over the years, “Pretty in Pink” has become a high school staple, while the far superior “Some Kind of Wonderful” is virtually ignored.
But why shouldn’t it be? After all, these are just vapid teen rom-coms, right? Perhaps, but “Some Kind of Wonderful” is one of the best films from a bygone era of teen culture, the likes of which we’ll probably not see again soon. The high school movies of the ’80s spoke to the outsider in all of us. With the dawn of the nineties, everything changed. Films like “Clueless” and “Bring It On” are aspirational: they’re about who kids want to be, not who they are. It’s an economic necessity—as much of the youth’s buying power has switched to tweens, who’ve made multi-million dollar brands out of Justin Bieber and “Twilight,” teen films have become riskier ventures. In-crowd stories bring in the bank, and so that’s what we’ve seen more of with each passing year. John Hughes’s movies like “Some Kind of Wonderful” weren’t selling us anything, except perhaps an ideal vision of high school, where dweebs and jocks, stoners and princesses, could all meet on equal ground.