Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2008)
1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful marked the end of a cinematic era. After making a name for himself with hits like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, filmmaker John Hughes left behind the world of teenage concerns and concentrated on more adult subjects. This led to some successes like 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles along with duds like 1988’s She’s Having a Baby.
Hughes didn’t stretch outside of safe territory in Wonderful. Artistically talented high school senior Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) comes from a blue-collar background. His dad Cliff (John Ashton) pushes him to become the first member of the family to go to college, but he seems to lack ambition – at least to pursue what his father wants. Keith hangs out with tomboyish classmate Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and she clearly crushes on him. However, Keith pines for sexy Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), though she seems to be out of his league since she mostly associates with the rich kids.
When he ogles her, Keith incurs the wrath of Amanda’s snotty boyfriend Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer), but this doesn’t prevent him from pursuing her. Eventually she dumps Harvey to protest against his scummy ways and agrees to go out with Keith. The rest of the movie follows their relationship and its effect on others.
My biggest gripe about Wonderful comes from the fact it’s a thinly-veiled remake of 1986’s Pretty in Pink. Whereas Pink was a fantasy for all the quirky girls, Wonderful acts as hope for the oddball boys. Stay true to yourself, do what you believe, and you’ll end up with the hottest girl in town.
It’s a load of tripe in either direction, but Wonderful makes the message go down much more smoothly than the dopey Pink. Some of the greater appeal stems from the characters and the actors, as both are superior in Wonderful. In particular, Stoltz offers a radically stronger performance than Molly Ringwald in Pink. The script doesn’t give Stoltz a lot to work with, but he manages to turn Keith into a charming, satisfying personality. We believe him as something of an outcast, but Keith’s not a freak. Stoltz really does a nice job in the part. He brings out an innocent, genuine quality to Keith that endears him to the audience.
That level of quality extends to the others as well. Masterson’s Watts is infinitely more likable than the annoying Jon Cryer’s Duckie. I really grew to hate the latter, whereas Masterson manages to turn a potentially grating character into someone sympathetic and likable. Given the importance of the Keith/Watts relationship, that’s crucial. Her chemistry with Stoltz allows the movie to thrive.
In smaller parts, both Ashton and Elias Koteas as Duncan the skinhead create some laughs. Ashton makes the most out of a scene in which he inadvertently embarrasses his teen daughter in school, and Koteas loosens up his one-dimensional role to amuse us. These moments are gratuitous and not connected to the plot, but at least they’re enjoyable.
Truly, my only real complaint about Wonderful comes from its derivative nature. I always thought it was odd that the same people made the same movie twice in two consecutive years, and that decision remains perplexing to me now. Wonderful and Pink aren’t just loosely similar; they really are the same film with some minor variations.
Nonetheless, I won’t complain too much since Wonderful provides a much more satisfying experience. Better acted and more logical, Wonderful surpasses Pink in virtually every way. It’s a sweet and endearing flick.
Trivia note: Wonderful betrays a Rolling Stones obsession on the part of the filmmakers. The most obvious reference comes with Amanda Jones, as “Miss Amanda Jones” is a song off the Stones’ 1967 release Between the Buttons. In case you missed that reference, the song appears twice in the movie: once as an atrocious cover from some forgotten 80s band called the March Violets and once in its original form.
Wonderful doesn’t stop its Stones allusions there, though. “Keith” is clearly named after the unkillable Mr. Richards, and “Watts” takes her name from legendary drummer Charlie. Perhaps other references appear as well and I just haven’t made the connections, but these name choices clearly aren’t coincidental.