***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras A-
starring Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Craig Sheffer, Lea Thompson
written by John Hughes
directed by Howard Deutch
by Bill Chambers "Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world. In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie." John Hughes may have had this famous Jean-Luc Godard quote in mind when he embarked on the screenplay for Some Kind of Wonderful, a gender-swapped version of his heavily-compromised Pretty in Pink that came out less than a year later. But Some Kind of Wonderful did not start out like it ended up: The script that director Howard Deutch originally signed on to direct was about a citywide first date between a social pariah and the prettiest girl in school that notoriously called for the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron to put on a private show for the couple. A broad comedy, it opened with its hero masturbating into a pillow. If you've seen Some Kind of Wonderful, this will all sound pretty incongruous.
Deutch had planned on reusing Pretty in Pink's Jon Cryeri, but the remaining roles proved difficult to cast. There are differing accounts as to what happened next. On the Some Kind of Wonderful Blu-ray just out from Paramount, Deutch recalls that during this time, he sat next to Brian De Palma on an airplane and confided in him that he was having trouble finding actors for his latest project. (Lea Thompson, for example, initially turned down the female lead.) "Well, if you can't cast it, don't do it," De Palma sagely advised. When he relayed this to Hughes as a humorous anecdote, Deutch says, Hughes responded with characteristically disproportionate ire, feeling that Deutch had made a laughingstock of him in front of a distinguished peer. Yet according to Cryer's memoir So That Happened, Deutch's mistake was actually expressing a desire to direct Hughes's never-made battle-of-the-sexes drama Oil and Vinegar, something Hughes wanted for himself and saw Deutch as scheming to poach. Whatever the truth, the outcome was the same: Deutch returned to his office to find the locks changed; the two would not speak again for months.
With Deutch gone, Hughes, for the first and last time in his career, hired a woman to helm one of his scripts: Martha Coolidge, director of the teen sleepers Valley Girl and Real Genius. Somehow, under her auspices, the parameters of Some Kind of Wonderful's narrative contracted until it became Pretty in Pink redux. Maybe the project's allure for her was this unique opportunity to critique a male-directed/female-driven film by way of turning the whole thing inside-out. Alas, Coolidge's working relationship with Hughes rapidly deteriorated during, wouldn't you know it, the casting process; only Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson survived her departure, though the former wanted to quit in solidarity and was talked out of it by Coolidge herself, who felt his career couldn't weather another high-profile exit after Michael J. Fox replaced him in Back to the Future. Deutch clawed his way back into Hughes's good graces and the director's chair, but with hardly a week left until principal photography he had little time to tailor the revised Some Kind of Wonderful screenplay to his sensibilities. While recapping the production's tortured journey to the screen may seem pedantic, it's critical to understanding a) how Deutch wound up making the same film twice in a row and b) why Some Kind of Wonderful feels the way it does, i.e., like nothing else in Deutch's filmography. (Deutch felt that he was all wrong for his next and final pairing with Hughes, 1988's The Great Outdoors, but he spent the '90s specializing in slapstick comedies of that ilk.) Like many a male artist, Deutch did his best work standing on the shoulders of an invisible woman.
This backstory, too, helps mitigate the potential misogyny of believing Pretty in Pink to be inferior to Some Kind of Wonderful, in which Molly Ringwald's fashionista Andie becomes Stoltz's artist Keith. Both are from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, something Hughes metaphorizes in Pretty in Pink by giving Andie a part-time job at the record store Trax but makes more literal in Some Kind of Wonderful by having a set of train tracks run through Keith's neighbourhood. Neither is popular, though it's fair to say that Andie is an extrovert while Keith is an introvert. Indeed, Keith has a broody, Byronic intensity years before Jordan Catalano and Edward Cullen turned silent smoulder into social capital. Hughes claimed that Keith reflects who he was in high school, a loner who expressed himself through drawing and painting--something that contradicts the subtext of his long out-of-circulation DVD commentary for Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which is that he channelled a lot of his teenage self into the invincible Ferris. As Hughes told Molly Ringwald in an interview for SEVENTEEN, "Thursday I was one person, and Friday I was another. My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso, because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on." (Was Hughes simultaneously defending his shapeshifting M.O. as a filmmaker?) What is clear is that Keith's conflict with dad Clifford (John Ashton) has autobiographical roots: Despite having artistic talent of his own that he nurtured in seclusion, Hughes's father John Hughes Sr. didn't consider having a creative drive a good reason for pursuing a career in the arts. Keith works nights and weekends at a service station (his job, as far as I can tell, almost exclusively consists of hoisting cars up into the air and then unscrewing their oil cap), squirrelling money away for his "future." To the pragmatic Clifford, that means business school, although the guidance counsellor recommends Keith apply to art schools instead. "Comes out of an art school, what's he qualified to do?" Clifford asks incredulously.
Keith's vision of the future increasingly involves something else entirely: Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), who lives close by in the bad part of town but has traded on her looks to leapfrog the high-school caste system. Some Kind of Wonderful may not know the difference between a gas-station attendant and a mechanic, but it evinces a certain worldliness in recognizing that the distaff counterpart to Andrew McCarthy's Blane need not be rich to have achieved a status that eludes even her neighbour. The film also likes women enough, and is savvy enough about human nature, to extrapolate that Amanda might have a titanic case of impostor syndrome as a result. Keith senses this, too, as an observer of her separate lives, and knows precisely which buttons to press when his mood turns vengeful. As if to expose her ersatz sophistication, he takes her to an ultra-posh restaurant, where navigating the terrain quickly throws her lower-middle-class upbringing into relief--to her shame and resentment. Thompson changed her mind about doing the film partly because Stoltz and Deutch asked her to reconsider the weekend that Howard the Duck came out and made her radioactive, yes, but she was also impressed by how the writing of Amanda Jones had sharpened in the interim. Presumably, credit is equally due Coolidge and Hughes, her gender consciousness enriching his insight into class.
Like Andie, Keith has a Duckie, a rebel without a cause in a "Papa Don't Preach" cut named Watts (Masterson). Just Watts.ii (Hughes thought it was funny to name two-thirds of his central trio after Rolling Stones and the third after a Stones song, "Miss Amanda Jones," which accompanies a sensational getting-dolled-up montage.) In the unevolved parlance of the 1980s, the vaguely androgynous Watts is a "tomboy," but nowadays she would probably identify as nonbinary. Masterson in fact told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that she felt the first incarnation of Watts, then called "Keith," was likely trans. Some Kind of Wonderful opens with Watts drumming along to Propaganda's instrumental "Abuse," and the film's title lands on a shot of her banging on the snare, unsubtly decorated with a giant red heart. Watts is putting her heart out there for Keith, her best friend for who knows how long, to see, but he's so oblivious that he seeks her counsel on Amanda Jones. "Don't go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs," Watts offers defensively. She starts measuring herself against Amanda in the girls' locker room, Amanda in her Victoria's Secret and Watts in her baggy T-shirt and men's boxers. It's painful to watch jealousy dull her edge, and it's no less agonizing when Keith starts slotting her into the third wheel prematurely. She keeps him company at work and it's clear that she romanticizes these nightly gatherings in a suspiciously vacant garage as the two of them having an island unto themselves, so when he asks her, "Don't you ever eat at home?" in the wake of the Amanda Jones bombshell, it's devastating. Now, suddenly, he's implying that during all of these evenings they've spent together, he's been humouring her. The next thing you know, she'll be a nuisance. The next thing you know, she'll be a ghost. Consequently, Watts plays the only card she has and offers him advice from a feminine perspective. "Pretend I'm a girl," she says. Ruefully.
Watts is the antithesis of Duckie in that she's hella charismatic and at no point do you worry she will murder Keith and stuff his corpse with sawdust. I've known a couple of Wattses in my time; Hughes didn't invent the archetype so much as harness its mystiqueiii, and the filmmakers wisely make no attempt to level the playing field between her and Amanda by forcing a makeover on her, unless you count the fact that she puts on lipstick and a little concealer before picking Keith up for his big date. That she's plenty fetching is treated as self-evident--Keith's just desensitized to her je ne sais quoi. It's possible the movie cultivates a fantasy in young, impressionable viewers of finding one's Watts, but the catch-22 is that Watts has to find you. Otherwise, you're not Keith, you're Watts. Or worse, Duckie, trying to engineer moments as swoony and cathartic as the kissing lesson Watts gives Keith to Stephen Duffy's achingly romantic "She Loves Me" ("The minutes that we missed/The idle lips that should've kissed/Are now gently together/The first kiss lasts forever"), a scene Hughes, incidentally, came up with on the day. Watts is too good for most of us, Keith included. His saving grace is that he has no fucking idea.
There is an antagonist in the film, completing the love triangle on both sides (Keith's and Amanda's). Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer--Coolidge wanted Kyle MacLachlan, who would do a variation on this character in Showgirls). He and Amanda break up over Hardy's catting around, whereupon Keith swoops in and asks her out. On the rebound and out for revenge, she says yes. Hardy is filthy rich and breathtakingly entitled: Confronted by the irate gym teacher (Lee Garlington) after storming into the girls' locker room, he says, "Do you mind? There is nothing here that I have not seen before." He appears to expect unconditional loyalty from Amanda for plucking her out of poverty, and Amanda soon discovers that her membership with the school's Heathers/Plastics is contingent on Hardy's continued endorsement. To Hardy, Keith is a glitch in the matrix who must be dealt with to restore the status quo, thus he plans to beat the shit out of him at a party to which he's invited Keith and Amanda. Keith's sister (Maddie Corman) warns him of this sinister plot, but Keith gets the short end of the stick and presumes Amanda is in league with Hardy. Y'know: bait.
It's a "Three's Company" misunderstanding, but thankfully Some Kind of Wonderful doesn't resort to a similarly sitcommish exit strategy. Well into their date, Keith and Amanda have a prickly dialogue about what constitutes using someone that is as constructive and thought-provoking as anything in Hughes's most therapeutic film, The Breakfast Club. "What's hanging in that museum? My soul? No, it's my face," Amanda seethes. She's referring to a painting of her that Keith made and, with the help of his new Breakfast Club skinhead pal Duncan (Elias Koteas, in a star-making turn that unfortunately wasn't), snuck into the LA County Museum of Art. The piece--in reality the work of once-blacklisted Chinese painter Han Xin, a commercial artist living in Columbus, OH at the time--shows Amanda standing against the lockers resting her head on her hand, a Mona Lisa smile on her face that gives her an aloofness I wouldn't describe as sexy but also wouldn't describe as not-sexy.iv While Keith may have thought he'd captured her tortured soul, he arguably glamorized, nay, sensualized it. (It's not a minor detail that he put her in a miniskirt.) Keith is forced to concede that the cachet of dating a beautiful woman may have factored into his attraction to Amanda. He cashed in his life savings to take her on this date (a big chunk of which went towards a pair of diamond earrings), which he frames as her being high maintenance when really he's sort of cosplaying Hardy.
Coolidge may have teed up the ball, but someone had to swing the club. Deutch arguably had more obstructions determining the outcome than Jørgen Leth, such as a star who brooded over the loss of Coolidge and was a pain-in-the-ass Method actor to boot. Deutch indulged Stoltz's perfectionism with a Kubrickian number of takes, though Stoltz suspects it was a campaign to wear down his defenses. Whatever the case, it's not a performance that betrays the friction between them. Hughes, music supervisor Tarquin Gotch, and album producer Stephen Hague had already set the soundtrack in stone, and my assumption is that most of the personnel was decided for Deutch, including Fright Night DP Jan Kiesser, whom Deutch remembers as "a gift." According to Deutch, Kiesser was someone who would always "put the camera where the story was," and he seems to have given Kiesser free reign to not only plant the camera but also channel the "flashed" aesthetic of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the magnum opus of Kiesser's mentor Vilmos Zsigmond. Some Kind of Wonderful's diffuse imagery anchors the film to a working-class POV; it's a grimy, sweaty junior Body Heat that suggests the product of Keith's grease-monkey paws. A far cry from the bubblegum brilliance of Pretty in Pink, in other words. Which isn't to position Some Kind of Wonderful as some gritty reboot, especially as it looms brighter in memory. In a way, the picture fulfills the broken promise of Pretty in Pink's ending, not because Andie (that is, Keith) finally winds up with Duckie (Watts), but because it's not about Cinderella earning the respect of Prince Charming--it's about three Cinderellas learning to respect each other. And themselves.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
To recap what I wrote in my review of She's Having a Baby, Paramount's new Blu-ray release "John Hughes: 5-Movie Collection" bundles the five films made under Hughes's imprimatur at this particular studio. Two of the discs hail from the early days of the format, and at least one of those, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, is crying out for an upgrade. The set is a slapdash effort whose primary selling point is all-in-one convenience, like those Kellogg's fun-paks of your favourite cereals. Currently, there is also no other way to own Some Kind of Wonderful and/or She's Having a Baby on the format.
Presented in the native HD aspect ratio of 1.78:1, Some Kind of Wonderful's 1080p transfer embraces the abovementioned diffuseness and doesn't get a whole lot sharper in HiDef. Kiesser, who had shot Hughes's Weird Science, steers the image away from that film's rich, poppy saturations in the direction of his frequent collaborations with Robert Altman (and Altman protégé Alan Rudolph). With its crunchy grain and sooty contrasts, there's a ceiling on how bold Some Kind of Wonderful can look without resorting to revisionism, though the Blu-ray does tighten up the grain structure and restore what definition was artificially lost in SD. Moreover, the earthy colour palette offers much more interest and depth in next-gen. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is true to the limitations of a pre-digital Dolby Stereo mix, sounding unsweetened and largely hemispheric. Occasionally the killer soundtrack reaches into the surrounds, but unless there's a diegetic reason for it (as in a club scene featuring The March Violets), the effect is best described as bleeding. Still, the audio does respond well to amplification and gains a decent amount of high and low end if you crank it. If Some Kind of Wonderful is not the dazzler that Pretty in Pink is on the format, fans should nonetheless immediately recognize and appreciate the modest upgrade in A/V quality.
Deutch and actress Thompson, married since 1989, joined forces for a commentary track in 2006 that gets recycled here. (As an aside, kudos to Paramount for going the extra mile in providing optional subtitles for it this time around.) A rocky start has Deutch referring to the opening cue as "Do Anything"--Deutch himself correctly identifies it as "Abuse" elsewhere in the supplements--and the two of them zoning out to the admittedly kickass title sequence. We learn that two days' worth of footage had to be reshot when Ned Tanen, the Sixteen Candles producer who'd replaced Michael Eisner as the head of Paramount, demanded that Eric Stoltz's shoulder-length hair be chopped off. What's hilarious is that there is almost immediately a cut from this discussion to Stoltz with longer hair, a continuity error they point out that I'd never noticed before. (Tanen was wrong to interfere, in my opinion.) It's a pleasant conversation mainly consisting of Thompson gently nudging Deutch to pontificate about someone or something on screen, like the incredible door production designer Linda Spheeris, sister of Wayne's World helmer Penelope, created for Keith's bedroom. There is, fascinatingly, a conversation about how the movie doesn't look dated because the costumes are back in style: As this was recorded 14 years ago, the pair might sound deluded to those up on current trends. I enjoyed the part where Deutch recounts what it was like to watch Hughes actually write, how he would start laughing or crying as he typed; it's rare to receive a glimpse that candid into someone's creation process.
Unlike the situation with Pretty in Pink, the documentary material found on Some Kind of Wonderful's Special Collector's Edition DVD resurfaces in full on BD. Prefacing it is the brand-new "Back to Wonderful" (7 mins., HD), a featurette in which director Howard Deutch once again reflects on the experience of working under Hughes's wing. For the most part, he avoids repeating old anecdotes or embroiders them with something extra. He says that he wouldn't do anything differently when he looks back on Some Kind of Wonderful, although he's fairly blunt about the tumultuous pre-production process. Deutch's memories of Hughes are bittersweet, accent on sweet. As this film ultimately rewarded him with the love of his life and the best reviews of his career, he holds no grudges.
The remaining segments, all in SD, were produced in 2006 and feature a mix of vintage and contemporary interviews with cast and crew (except in the case of Hughes, by then media-shy). "The Making of Some Kind of Wonderful" (8 mins.) is interesting for Stoltz's genial mien and the fact that he affectionately refers to Deutch--a man he, by his own admission, did not get along with--as "Howie." For his part, Deutch wonders if their combative relationship fed the undercurrent of tension in Stoltz's interactions with his on-screen father. "Meet the Cast of Some Kind of Wonderful" (13 mins.) opens with an odd remark from Hughes that Stoltz had auditioned for "Cameron" in The Breakfast Club (Cameron being a character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Hughes goes on to say that Mary Stuart Masterson's mother had played Molly Ringwald's mom in Sixteen Candles and asked Hughes to keep Mary in mind for future projects. Actress Maddie Corman steals the piece with a delightful funny-sad story about lying to her dying mother that she got a part in the movie they'd seen a trailer for before Ferris Bueller's Day Off, then miraculously landing said part. Koteas, sadly, did not show up for this reunion (nor did Craig Sheffer), but Stoltz claims that Koteas was the only actor who got away with improvising dialogue.
In "The Music" (5 mins.), Hughes and others reflect on his peculiar method of writing to a mixtape that would more or less become the movie's soundtrack. Although Masterson touches on her drum lessons with studio musician Billy Moore ("He had this Jedi-master quality to him"), mostly this is a glorified countdown of the songs used in the film that barely mentions anyone else who was involved in selecting or composing music for it. Last but not least is another chunk of the "John Hughes Time Capsule" (11 mins.), Kevin Bacon's sit-down with Hughes in a mixing studio lit purply '80s pink. A surprisingly good interviewer, Bacon asks Hughes where his preoccupation with class comes from--"[I] knew kids that in third grade would say, 'When I'm 18, I'm getting $22 million,'" Hughes says, adding, "it always bothered me"--and delves into the potentially autobiographical aspects of Some Kind of Wonderful. I wish Paramount would stop releasing this dialogue piecemeal and give us the whole enchilada already.
95 minutes; PG-13; 1.78:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French DD 2.0 (Mono), German DD 2.0 (Mono); English, English SDH, French, German; BD-50; Region-free; Paramount
i Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy ended the dream of a truly inverse Pretty in Pink when they declined to return along with him. They would, however, reunite for David Anspaugh's baffling 1988 melodrama Fresh Horses.
ii Hughes's shooting script reveals that her first name is Susan in the final scene.
iii In interviews, Hughes refers to Watts exclusively as Drummer Girl, like she should have a cape and an insignia.
iv Deutch, then suffering what was for all he knew a crush destined to be unrequited, kept the painting. Thompson took home two of the practice paintings, and several more are collecting dust in the prop department at Paramount.