Reeling Backward: Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Essentially a remake of "Pretty in Pink" but with John Hughes' preferred ending, "Some Kind of Wonderful" revisits the teen love triangle with some interesting notes but less energy.
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“This is 1987. Did you know a girl can be whatever she wants to be?”
“I know. My mom’s a plumber.”
It has been claimed that John Hughes wrote “Some Kind of Wonderful,” which is in many ways a remake of “Pretty in Pink,” strictly so he could finally have the ending he always wanted where the two misfits wind up together instead of Blane winning out over Duckie. If so, he brings some interesting notes to the fore despite the film not being nearly as engaging or enduring.
Hughes again turned over the director’s chair to Howard Deutch, who had previously helmed “Pink” as his first feature film in that role. Actually, he fired Deutch after he disagreed about the casting, only to be rehired when his replacement, Martha Coolidge, was herself canned.
Hughes, who could be prickly and demanding of loyalty, also parted ways with his personal muse, Molly Ringwald, after she turned down a role in “Wonderful” because she was ready to be done with teen roles.
(Alas, audiences felt the same way about her once she graduated, cinematically speaking, from high school.)
I would’ve thought that Hughes wanted Ringwald for the role of Amanda, the popular, perfect girl who was eventually played by Lea Thompson. No, he actually wanted her for the part of gruff, drum-playing tomboy Watts, which instead went to Mary Stuart Masterson. I loved Masterson in that role, especially the mix of toughness and vulnerability she brought to the screen. But I can’t help imagining what Ringwald would’ve done with it.
Hughes, who wrote from the heart but was still a Hollywood opportunist, actually did a ton of music chair-pulling for this film.
It was about to go into production when “Pretty in Pink” came out and became a huge hit, and Hughes found himself with newfound clout. He fired Kim Delaney, who was to play Amanda, and got Thompson, who initially turned down the part but agreed after her first starring role, “Howard the Duck,” was a tremendous flop
Also canned was Kyle MacLachlan as Keith Nelson, the drippy boy leg of this love triangle. They tried to get Michael J. Fox, but got the hand after the smash hit of “Back to the Future,” which Thompson co-starred in, and settled on Eric Stoltz instead, who himself had been fired from “Future” for not having the proper comedic touch.
He was better known for dramatic roles like “Mask,” and after a rewrite of the script morphed “Wonderful” from a straight teen comedy to something moodier like “Pink,” Stoltz seemed a good fit.
I’m not so sure.
Like Andrew McCarthy’s creepy Blane in “Pink,” Keith is strangely under-developed as a character — despite being the ostensible protagonist. Stoltz play him with a sort of moony, fatalistic charm as the poor kid who aspires to the hand of the prettiest girl in school. He soon learns that Amanda’s slithery ex-boyfriend, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer), is looking to set him up for a beating and mistakenly thinks she’s in on the plot.
At this point the movie takes a strange swerve, as Keith is determined to continue the date despite it all being one big joke. He even goes so far as to withdraw all the money he’s been saving for college working in a gas station to buy expensive diamond earrings for Amanda, which he will present to her as a token of his determination not to back down from… life, or something.
I’m reminded of Matthew Modine’s role in “Vision Quest,” in which he is resolved to drop two weight classes to take on the best wrestler in the state, just to prove that he has the fortitude to tackle such an undertaking.
Stoltz’ Keith is too passive and unassuming to seem capable of such a move, though. He plays the movie with a lot of shy smiles and high-pitched line deliveries, his voice actually above that of his two leading ladies.
A side story about Keith having a quiet contest of wills with his father (John Ashton) about picking a college seems shoehorned in without much thought. Keith has good grades and is an aspiring artist, so why wouldn’t he want to go to college? His dad is angling toward a business school, but a state college would surely have some creative courses he could explore.
For his part the dad just wants his son to go to university because he couldn’t, and wants him to become the first member of the family who ‘doesn’t have to wash his hands at the end of a work day.’
I was glad the movie made an effort to explore Amanda, a character who usually gets buttonholed in films like this. She has certain negative qualities, like using her beauty to get what she wants and enjoying going with Hardy, just because he’s rich and popular. But she herself is not part of the upper-crust crowd, seeing her relationship with Hardy as the means to go through a door otherwise barred to her. She eventually dumps him after his serial cheating becomes too much to take.
She accepts the date with Keith basically just as a way to get out with Hardy, and truly seems to have no interest in him. But she comes to grow and accept that Hardy and her erstwhile friends (Holly Hagan chiefly) aren’t worth the corrupting effect they have on her soul.
The most interesting character, of course, is Watts. Masterson gets a short, vaguely punk haircut and androgynous clothes to wear — including, famously, boys’ boxer shorts that she gets teased about in the girls’ locker room. Watts (I’m guessing that’s her last name; we never hear any other) watches Amanda from across the changing room, admiring her feminine curves and rubbing her hands over her own body in a regretful way. Very female gaze-y.
(Interesting aside: in their few scenes together, the camera takes pains to make Watts seem bigger and more intimating than Amanda, though both actresses are the same height.)
Watts is a classic screen rebel, rejecting all the tropes and conventions of those around her while secretly pining to fit in and share the comfort of convention. We get the sense that she and Keith are only fairly recent friends, and that she has had feelings for him the whole time without ever expressing them. She loves a boy, but still waits passively — albeit with a lot of dropped hints — for him to act.
This being a 1980s popular film, “Wonderful” edges around some LGBT questions without ever directly addressing them. Watts is called a lesbian one time, and doesn’t seem particularly bothered by it, and often mimics her oppressors by repeating the claim that she’s not ‘really a girl.’ She’s just enough of a feminist to cherish her individualism and right to make choices but not enough to tell Keith to go stuff it, which is what a truly self-assured young woman would do.
Elias Koteas turns up as Duncan, a skinhead antagonist of Keith’s who winds up becoming his guardian after they bond during detention. He seems significantly older than the rest of the cast, though he, Thompson and Stoltz were all 26 when the movie came out. Masterson was the kid at 21.
I was struck during the movie by how compliant the school officials are with the kids’ behavior. Hardy invades the girls’ locker room while carrying on an argument with Amanda, calls the coach a bitch and just gets detention for it. Keith deliberately sets off the fire alarm and receives similar punishment. Despite having a knife, Duncan never gets suspended. Amanda sweet-talks her way out of detention by flirting with the driver’s ed coach.
“Some Kind of Wonderful” was a modest hit, but has faded into the grayish zone of ’80s teen movies, which is probably where it belongs. It feels less like a fully-formed film in of itself than borrowed leftovers from John Hughes’ oeuvre. At least we get to see the boy as the object of affection, instead of only being the pursuer.