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Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Best Movies of My Life: Weird Science (1985)

There are three John Hughes movies that make my Best Movies list: this one, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club. Anthony Michael Hall stars in all three. I feel somewhat ashamed in saying that I haven't kept up with his career since. I read through his Wikipedia page and was startled to see just how active he has been. It shouldn't be a surprise, really: he's very talented, with a wide range of abilities.

Bored white overprivileged teenaged boys dream up hot girl who they bring to life Frankenstein-style by use of a home computer. Hilarity and life lessons ensue.

It's worth watching just to see how archaic the computer scenes and lingo are. It's worth watching to look at the 80s fashions. It's worth watching to see Robert Downey, Jr., Kelly LeBrock, John Kapelos (who appears in all three of these films as well), and Bill Paxton, who plays an 80s version of a Trump MAGAt. It's worth watching to get a strong feel for the ethos of the 80s, which, as a survivor of that decade, was: It's all about you, baby. Get what you want, and to hell with the consequences or those you may hurt. They'll be all right. If they had the chance, they'd do it to you. So go for it.

Our protagonists live in a wealthy (and fictional) part of Chicago, judging by the homes. Their concerns are girls, girls, cars, clothes, partying, and girls. To that end, and by using a home computer--which back then was like owning a television in 1950, a true luxury for most--they hack this and hack that and attach a doll to electrodes and speak word salad and feed Playboy images into the computer to create the perfect girl. In a hurricane of chaos, she arrives in her underwear.

Kelly LeBrock is, in my opinion, the best reason to watch this movie. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but she offers an affecting, nuanced role as, ultimately, a sexy babysitter to Gary (Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, who ended up quitting acting and is now an English professor). By way of her magical powers, conferred by some unknown digital alchemy, she plans and throws a massive party at Wyatt's house, and along the way "un-nerds" her gawking, uncertain charges by outfitting them with new clothes and giving them a taste of what adulthood, adult freedom, and adult responsibility look like. Along the way they discover what real love looks like (as opposed to the fantastical variety they dreamed up in LeBrock's Lisa) in two of the partygoers, who decide they are worth, in the end, hooking up with.

Lisa's purpose fulfilled, she goes back to the glowing-red ether from whence she came; the home is magically repaired from the enormous damage it sustained during the party; Wyatt's parents, who had been out of town, return none the wiser; and the credits roll.

I think some additional commentary suffices here regarding Hughes' vision in all three of his movies that I have included in the list of the best of my life.

The first is the enormous privilege his teenage characters enjoy. Again, as someone who survived the 80s, their privilege isn't just middle class; it is at least upper middle class or even outright wealthy. These kids have no want, at least in the roof-food-bed-clothes-parents categories. In fact, they have more than enough of all of them, to the point of being utterly bored with them.

The second are the adults and parents of these kids, who are almost universally disdained, either outright, as in this film, or more subtly, as in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Hughes' teens are rebels, are fighting back against the soul-crushing reality of American adulthood. They do so by saying "fuck" and getting hip with their wardrobe and wearing tighter jeans and throwing deep shade at Barry Manilow. That's Hughes' idea of what nonconformism looks like. You keep your overwhelming privilege; you don't ever deal with people of color (what Molly Ringwald bemoaned as the "desperate whiteness" of Hughes' films); you follow the 80s ethic of I-Me-Mine; and in the end you win. You get the hot, sassy white girl. You get to stay in the enormous home, or, after growing up, you can expect to land that cushy corporate job with the benies and the babes. And--best of all--you're now way cool to your peers.

As a white man born to privilege myself, I must admit to being blind to all of this for a very long time. It has only been fairly recently that I finally opened my eyes to it and saw it for what it was.

Hughes himself was a Reagan Republican. His idea of rebellion, ultimately, comes down to a rather Ayn Randish take on capitalism, selfishness, and ego. It's glaringly apparent to me now, and it shocks me these days whenever I watch any of his films, not just these three.

That said, these three remain on the list of the best of my life because the stories are very well told and funny, and sometimes deeply affecting too, as in The Breakfast Club. As the frumpled Allison says in a particularly moving scene from that film, "When you grow up, your heart dies."

Hughes' version of nonconformity, supercharged like Wyatt's computer with his underlying philosophy, makes that an inevitability for his teenaged heroes. What's going to show up when the door explodes isn't a Lisa, but a cutthroat, harried, high blood pressure, bloated, mortgaged, drowning in debt, evermore bitter, evermore conservative future self they will have trouble, in their suburban naivete, even recognizing.