Film discussion

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) – Teen Movie Rewind

In our Teen Movie Rewind series, we explore coming of age stories and teen cinema, looking at the impact of the films themselves and the careers that they made.

In some ways, Some Kind of Wonderful feels like something of an afterthought in the Hughes teen movie cycle. Released in 1987 and the last film of his to feature teenage protagonists, Hughes would move into a cycle of more grown-up centred comedies, beginning with the same year’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles and 1988’s She’s Having a Baby, before finding another ongoing niche to play with thanks to family-friendly comedies such as Uncle Buck and the first two Home Alone movies.

In many respects, a knee jerk reaction to having the ending of Pretty in Pink changed by the test screening process, Some Kind of Wonderful is arguably the same film, albeit with the genders of the characters reversed. Instead of one girl and two guys, we now have one guy and two girls.

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Many themes and ideas from the previous year’s film get a similar workout here; boy and girl are best friends, boy falls in love with a girl somewhat above his social standing, there is a rich douchebag character making life hell for our hero, but instead of winding up with the rich girl he realises his feelings for his best friend – the ending Hughes originally wanted for Pretty in Pink’s Andie before the audience said otherwise. The film is even directed by Pretty in Pink’s director, Howard Deutch, and Hughes wanted Ringwald to play one of the female characters.

Now, it might sound like I’m about to complain about the film, and say it isn’t any good and that it’s nothing more but a retread of another film. It is that, admittedly, but it’s also a wonderful piece of work. There’s nothing new here, but what it does, Some Kind of Wonderful does well and – we might have to whisper it – it also happens to be a better film than Pretty in Pink, even if the latter is the better known and more famous film.

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Of all Hughes’ teen films, Some Kind of Wonderful is his most grounded work; there is very little of the descent into silliness or overt comedy that would sometimes come in randomly in his other films, and it is a more committed and dramatic piece. Yes, all the tropes and clichés are there, but in a more mature way than before. There is no equivalent scene here such as when Ducky dances around the record store in Pretty in Pink, or the dancing montage from The Breakfast Club. The more dramatic elements are focused, and the film sticks with those for its runtime.

This was an interesting period for Hughes who was about to turn away for good from teen characters, at least as central characters in the story. We’d get teenagers in Christmas Vacation and Uncle Buck, but they were supporting characters in films about characters who were middle-aged. While into the 90s, his protagonists would get younger and younger, going from Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone movies, to literally having a baby at the centre of the action in Baby’s Day Out with an abundance of cartoon violence thrown in for good measure.

Ferris Bueller always felt like the more genuine goodbye to the genre for Hughes, a final chapter or a full stop, while Some Kind of Wonderful is an epilogue of sorts, taking the one film that got away from him and doing it right before going into new genres and characters with which to tell his stories.

It’s a shame that this is the one that has fallen through the cracks and is not as iconic or as famous, because that mature streak has allowed the film to age better than Sixteen Candles or Weird Science. Like the latter, the film is told from the point of view of a male lead, although it never falls into the leery or problematic sexual politics that mired that film or even Sixteen Candles. Yes, there are some exchanges of dialogue or themes that might make one wince a little, but there is a genuine sensitivity here and it’s helped by a soulful performance from Stoltz, acting opposite Lea Thompson who, in an alternate universe, he would have worked with two years before if he had never been fired from Back to the Future.

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In fact, that same alternate universe may even have a different version of this film; originally set to be directed by Martha Coolidge who had directed Valley Girl four years before, the casting was set to consist of Kyle McLachlan and Kim Delaney before Hughes fired them in favour of Stoltz, Lea Thompson and Mary Stuart Masterson.

Like so many Hughes films, the three leads would stare broodingly from the poster, only this time there is a brooding heart at the centre of the film, a sensitivity that never allows itself to fall into jokes about rape or sexual assault. In the end, Stoltz’s character Keith Nelson realises his feelings for best friend Watts, played by Masterson, and the ending Hughes wanted the first time around is fulfilled, and with it the end of Hughes’ tenure as a laureate of YA cinema and coming of age stories.

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It’s a subtle and underplayed end to that tenure for sure, but one that is ripe for rediscovery.  Keith, Watts, and Amanda (Thompson) are some of Hughes’ best characters and are never merely archetypes filling in for the characters of his previous box office hit. One can see the influence of the best friend in love with one who only has eyes for another on the likes of the first season of Dawson’s Creek, while more remarkably, the character of Watts never conforms in the manner of Alison (Ally Sheedy) in The Breakfast Club, instead, remaining the tomboyish, androgynous character that she had been throughout the run time of the movie and managing to win the affections of Keith because of who she is, rather than having to become a different person.

The final scene and its beautifully cheesy line of “ You look good wearing my future” brings to an end an era of Hollywood cinema that would continue to be influential for years and decades to come, ripe for rediscovery on video, television screenings, DVD and now streaming. It’s a highly influential era of mainstream filmmaking for sure, one that still invites debate to this day, but whatever you may think of Hughes’ work during the 80s and his exploration of growing up and coming of age, it does remain a mighty and important part of the teen cinema genre.

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