Can’t Buy Me Love

Can’t Buy me Love. Apollo Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Among “contrived reasons for two people who wouldn’t normally interact to be stuck together”, “I will pay you a thousand dollars to be my girlfriend” is a pretty contrived one. It looks like he’s not even lonely, he’s just trying to increase his social standing.

It looks like there’s a little inverse-Pygmalion happening, where he brings her into his life and she helps him fit in? That is probably not what happens, but if it is, that could be a pretty forward-thinking concept for late 80s Hollywood.

After watching the movie:

Ronald Miller spent his entire summer mowing lawns to earn enough money to buy a telescope, but as he considers entering his senior year of high school, he laments being one of the nerds who don’t go to the cool parties, since senior year is supposed to be a time for making great memories at social events. As he’s about to buy the telescope, he sees his next-door neighbor Cindy Mancini, the head cheerleader, trying to find a way to replace her mother’s thousand-dollar suede outfit without letting her know it got ruined at a party. Ronald proposes that he buy her the replacement, if she agrees to pose as his girlfriend for the first month of the school year so the popular clique will accept him. Without any other options, she agrees. Over the next month, she shows Ronald how to not be a complete dweeb around her social circle, while he grows distant with his old friends, and Cindy’s clique begins to accept him. Eventually they begin to let down their guard with each other and become friends within their conspiracy. But then the month is over, and it’s time for them to stage a breakup. Ronald takes on the act of staying cool and trendy full time and becomes everything Cindy warned him about, but now she’s just the first rung he stepped on while climbing the social ladder.

I was right that there was a little bit of inverse Pygmalion, but the makeover Cindy gives Ronald doesn’t really last when he takes over managing his own public persona. Everything he learned gets exaggerated past recognition, and he becomes everything she didn’t want him to be. Ultimately, what she did for him is neither endorsed nor rejected by the narrative, since the moral is one more 80s high school movie rejection of the caste system that writers 20-30 years out of high school derived from their embellished memories. It would’ve been a much sweeter love story if it didn’t take a turn for indicting the “popular jocks and the riff-raff” hierarchy one more time.

It might be a good business decision to title a movie as a reference to a song to sink a major portion of the budget into for visibility, but it feels like it creatively hurts a movie more often than not. The Beatles song is a classic, but it doesn’t sit well with anything else in the movie. I’m not entirely sure the main theme of the score, a very 80s-sounding piece that manages to be wistful and driving all at the same time and sounds like fast-paced change for the better, actually fits this movie either, but I’d rather listen to more of it than hear the Beatles tacked on where they don’t belong.

Perhaps not since Howard the Duck has a movie surprised me so much by being more delightful than I was expecting, then suddenly swerving halfway through into being a movie I am significantly less delighted by. I’m not nearly as disappointed in this movie, because it just became the same movie as every other high school comedy from the 80s, rather than trailblazing paths to new awfulness, but I’m disappointed all the same. It became a peer pressure drone while commenting on peer pressure drones.

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