Judge Brett Cullum still has a soft spot for New Wave hairdos.
Our review of Some Kind Of Wonderful, published September 19th, 2002, is also available.
"Well, I like art, I work in a gas station, my best friend is a tomboy. These things don't fly too well in the American high school."—Keith
John Hughes capped off his '80s teen dramas with Some Kind of Wonderful in 1987. It marked the end of an era for teen angst, killer soundtracks, and '80s fashions. Nobody since has caught the imaginations of teenagers so well or consistently, and this DVD marks the penultimate disc in your Brat Pack collection (even though most of the accepted "Pack" was not cast). Some Kind of Wonderful stands easily next to Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, or The Breakfast Club as a classic of the '80s teen genre. It's the most underrated of all his films, and also the one that holds up the best after all these years. It always makes me think of people I went to high school with, especially a girl named Ginna Englehardt who was the embodiment of the female drummer in the story. I suspect many people knew someone like her.
Facts of the Case
See if this sounds familiar. A redhead pines for someone who runs with the rich and pretty crowd, all the while being supported by a New Wave best friend who not so secretly pines for him. Pretty in Pink had the same plot, but this is the male counterpart with a different conclusion. Eric Stolz plays red head Keith who is out to get a date with Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson, Back to the Future). The problem is she's popular, pretty, and attached to a wealthy jerk boyfriend (Craig Sheffer, Hellraiser: Inferno). Keith's best friend is a female drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson, Bed of Roses) who only has eyes for him, yet she offers advice to her lovelorn buddy. The question is not whether Keith will get the girl, but will he get the girl he deserves once he grows up a little?
What makes the John Hughes teen movies so damn watchable even after all these years? Like all the titles found in The Brat Pack Movies and Music Collection, Some Kind of Wonderful is about well-fleshed-out characters. We come to know almost everyone, and they end up rising above stereotypes. Amanda Jones, Watts, and Keith are more than the sum of their parts as popular girl, alternative chick, and artistic sensitive guy. There is more emotional truth in each of these roles than what you'd find in movies made about adults. About the only guy who gets cardboard treatment is Craig Sheffer as Hardy Jenns, but we're not meant to sympathize with the over moussed villain of the piece. He's so damn effective as a bad guy that GQ magazine named him above James Spader as Steff in Pretty in Pink as the ultimate John Hughes jerk. Elias Koteas (Collateral Damage) also makes a great impression as the punk greaser named Duncan, in a role that gets the best lines in the film.
Ready for Some Kind of Wonderful trivia? Molly Ringwald was supposed to play Amanda Jones, but she decided to sit this one out looking to expand her repertoire. Lea Thompson was a friend of Eric Stolz, so she got the role that would have been filled by the muse for John Hughes. Lucky for her, because she was cast right as Howard the Duck came out and became one of the biggest bombs in movie history. She had turned down the film initially, but came crawling back in the wake of her flop. She ended up marrying director Howard Deutch (they are still married with two children). Look closely at the names of all the characters, they have a connection to the Rolling Stones. We have a lead character named Keith, a drummer named Watts, and a heroine named for the song "Amanda Jones." In the original cut of Pretty in Pink it ended similarly to how Some Kind of Wonderful resolves, but test audiences and Molly Ringwald demanded reshoots. So this film is seen as a response to that movie to provide the same set up with a different conclusion. John Hughes wanted to direct the movie, but couldn't due to script writing commitments.
This is a double dip for Some Kind of Wonderful, which previously received a widescreen bare bones catalog release like most John Hughes films. I fear we will see multiple editions of all these titles, so don't bet on this edition being the last. Yet it does offer a substantial upgrade, since it contains a commentary and several featurettes. The featurette focusing on the making of the film offers glimpses of the major players in talking head interviews recorded recently except for archival segments with John from 1987. The insight is great even if it only runs a scant eight minutes. "Meet the Cast" gathers both recent and archival footage of the actors for a look at the ensemble. "The Music" explores how John Hughes picked songs for his films, and it's the kind of segment I have been dying to see. The soundtrack for the film is amazing, including Charlie Sexton, Flesh for Lulu, Propaganda, Stephen Duffy, and obscure '80s bands that will bring a smile to your face. The commentary features married couple Deutch and Thompson reflecting on the movie where they first met. Everyone say it together: "Awww!" Also included is a fascinating discussion from 1987 with Kevin Bacon (Footloose) and John Hughes which goes far deeper than the film itself to provide a career retrospective. The transfer is fine if unremarkable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I always hated the casting of actors in their late 20s for high school movies, and Some Kind of Wonderful is full of them. Of course now that I'm older I appreciate that my peers could be cast as seniors in a high school romance. It still looks odd to be pushing 30 and slinging books for homework in all your scenes. Yet as I've alluded to before, these are mini-adults anyway.
Smart and caring teenagers searching for identities is the trademark that made the rich characters of John Hughes survive all these decades. Even though they are hopelessly dated by fashion and music, time has been kind to titles like Some Kind of Wonderful. It should appeal to Generation X'ers seeking a nostalgic fix, but kids of today can discover it on DVD and appreciate it. It's teens boiled down to an innocent purity without Internet, cell phones, or home video game systems. It's high schoolers talking about dreams, relationships, and feelings with each other rather than in a blog or a My Space account. It's charming, and it's the last time we got to see Hughes travel the sacred halls of high school before he resigned himself to bright comedies like Home Alone. This special collector's edition finally gives viewers a chance to see the film along with supportive material that illuminates why the movie works today.
Some Kind of Wonderful lives up to its title. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Howard Deutch and Actress Leah Thompson
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