Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weird Science

Weird Science screens at Toronto Underground Cinema on Thursday November 18th at 7pm and Wednesday November 24th at 9pm.

In her recently released and informative book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, John Hughes scholar Susannah Gora looks at the influence the Brat Pack and Hughes had on the evolution of how films are written for and marketed to teens. Her insight on films like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink are exhaustive and well written, and it is a must read for a Hughes completest. But early on in the book, she makes a point that I really beg to differ with. Gora declines to talk about Weird Science "because though it's still a late-night cable TV fixture, it has virtually no cultural resonance."

I don't think Gora bothered to ask the kind of people who responded to our recently closed customer's choice poll if they thought Weird Science was culturally relevant. While the film didn't win the poll, it was still in the top ten, meaning at least 400 of the 700 people who responded reacted favourably towards it. Granted, John Hughes fans (myself included) are kind of a cult unto ourselves, but to say that a film that is a "cable TV fixture" has no cultural resonance is to unkindly dismiss a film that, while admittedly pretty slight (as almost all Hughes films really are), is to miss the point of nostalgia at all. Pretty much any film that can be described as a staple of the late night TV genre holds great nostalgic value and therefore is at least somewhat relevant.

Weird Science is probably the first real sex comedy that young people would have seen in the 1980s. Hughes films always toed the line between PG-13 and R, but Weird Science really deals with some pretty deep sexual fantasies amidst all the silliness surrounding the plot. It is this very memory a lot of people probably have of their first sex comedy that makes Weird Science one of the more culturally relevant comedies of the 1980s, and definitely one of the most unjustly forgotten films in the Hughes oeuvre.

Gary (Hughes' male muse Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Michael Smith) are a couple of nerdy virginal teenage males that decide to create a woman using a really improbably powered super computer. The "woman" named Lisa (supermodel Kelly LeBrock) has the libido that the two of them were originally looking for, but just like most teenage boys Gary and Wyatt have no idea what to do with a woman. Tapdancing around the sex issue for a while, Lisa ends up functioning as a genie to the young men and places them in situations where they have to step up and act a lot more mature than they really are. The biggest obstacle to Gary and Wyatt's sexual awakening is that of the other domineering male figures that they need to learn to outsmart. Wyatt needs to overcome his military minded older brother Chet (Bill Paxton, who really excels at comedy and needs to do more of them) who torments him on a daily basis. There also emerges a pair of popular kids (one of whom is played by Robert Downey Jr.) who still question the motives of Gary and Wyatt despite Lisa supplying them with fancy cars, fake IDs, and new clothes.

Weird Science is a male wish fulfilment fantasy crossed with Frankenstein. Only nothing really happens in this fantasy. For a sex comedy, it really teases the young male demographic and then gives them the somewhat subversive message that males don't need to be in relationships to be seen as good, successful people worthy of love. Of course, the 15 year old probably doesn't get that right off the bat, but Hughes injects the film with his trademark wit and love for his audience that is on display in all of his early work. Definitely not his best, but it certainly deserves a mention when you talk about his career.

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