Movie review: ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’

cbmlThe 1980s saw the teen comedy-drama explode from an already impressive history as a genre in Hollywood. Of course John Hughes and his “Brat Pack” led the way, but there were still a number of good efforts, including “Can’t Buy Me Love” starring Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson. It’s not great cinema and has weak ending, but it’s worth watching because it doesn’t fail on all levels – a sin committed by many films of the genre. So, sit back, relax and enjoy.

‘Can’t Buy Me Love’
(1987; 94 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Steve Rash and starring Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson and Seth Green)

LOVE IS NOT FOR SALE, BUT POPULARITY CAN BE

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some more trivia and opinion and updated some links on Aug. 14, 2016.)

Light-hearted teen comedies can entertain and “Can’t Buy Me Love” is just such a film. It is fluff, but it is entertaining (a quality often overlooked in the value of a film). “Can’t Buy Me Love” offers good but not exceptional work by the actors – except for a very young Seth Green – and it does an OK job in conveying its message. You’d do a lot worse with an hour-and-a-half than watch this one.

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As for the plot, it’s been done before and will find its way back to the screen again, but this one is accomplished with a passing grade. Patrick Dempsey is “Ronald Miller,” a high school senior who is a geek, responsible, decent and humble … and he’s about as popular as the chicken pox. So, through a convoluted plot twist involving a stain on suede, he manages to “rent” a popular girl for a month as a way to show he’s become “cool.”

Dempsey heads a young leading cast (he was 20 during filming) along with Amanda Peterson, who plays popular rich girl “Cindy Mancini.” Peterson was just 15 at the time of filming (unlike many of these films where late 20s actors usually play high school couples).

Back to the plot: Peterson stains her mother’s expensive suede outfit and Dempsey comes to her rescue. He’s looking for a way to change his standing in school for his senior year and believes that by hanging out without someone like Peterson the rest of the cool gang will accept him.

Dempsey is a hit with a somewhat reluctant Peterson and her friends. Dempsey, who would later play in “Loverboy,” “Scream 3” and TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” hits his stride and immediately discards old friends when he becomes the center of attention for the new “cool” ones.

At the same time Peterson, of course, has the best in him grow on her quickly. Peterson, who would step back from acting a dozen years later for personal reasons after only 20 acting credits (mostly on TV), uses her talent to show from the beginning that she’s not just a vapid cheerleader. She is convincing and works well with the modest script. Tragically, Peterson died last year at 43 of an accidental overdose of morphine, according to IMDb.com.

Since being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, the film spins out along a familiar path: now-cool boy becomes jerkish, does a really horrific thing to a friend’s house and ultimately goes down in flames when his “cool” status is destroyed by Peterson at a party. She continues with life’s frustrations and who doesn’t like the person she has helped create.

Dempsey then stages a comeback from his humiliation with an overdone and stereotypical speech that puts all right. You can take this one because the rest of the film stands up well. As the credits roll, Dempsey and Peterson ride off on his lawn mower while the famous song from the Beatles plays (it was the opening credits, too).

Here’s a look at some of the primary cast:

  • Dempsey is good in this role (with the exception of overdone speech at the end) and slips seamlessly between his normal and cool persona. Peterson, who was also in “Annie” and “Windrunner” as well as TV’s “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” acts even more mature than her character should, but at least she didn’t underplay the role.
  • Emmy winner Green does an acceptable job as a kid actor (not the easiest thing to accomplish), especially since his “Chuckie Miller” is obnoxious, sarcastic and ultimately OK as when he confronts Peterson about her destruction of Dempsey. He won his Emmy (and earned several nominations) for an animation called “Robot Chicken”). I liked him better in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and two sequels and I liked him best in the remake of “The Italian Job”.”
  • I didn’t especially like the effort by Courtney Gains as a gang member in “Colors” with Robert Duvall (which he did right after “Can’t Buy Me Love”) but he does a respectable job here as Dempsey’s best friend and vandalism victim “Kenneth Wurman.” Gains’ best acting comes as he finally confronts Dempsey in a game arcade about the vandalism on his house. Gains was also in “Back to the Future,” TV’s “21 Jump Street,” “Memphis Belle” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
  • Comedian and film director Dennis Dugan plays “David Miller,” Dempsey’s father, and does a solid job as the slightly clueless parent (cue stereotype character here). Dugan both directed and acted in “Happy Gilmore,” the second-best golf movie ever made (click here for my review), as well as having directed “Grown Ups” and its sequel, “Saving Silverman” and “Problem Child.”

Can’t Buy Me Love” was the 39th ranked film at the box office in 1987, raking in $31.6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. The No. 1 film was “Three Men and a Baby” at $167.7 million and here are the films from that year that I’ve reviewed:

Some cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Although only 12 during filming, Green notched his 11th acting credit with “Can’t Buy Me Love.” His first credit (and motion picture) was “The Hotel New Hampshire”.” He has 10 credits alone in 2014 (doing movies, TV and voice overs) and a total of 150 in his ca
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The Airplane Graveyard/Boneyard is located just outside of Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.”
  • Eric Bruskotter, who plays “Big John” the football and flatulence king, would go on to roles in “Starship Troopers,” Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” (click here for my review) and TV’s “Glee.” “Can’t Buy Me Love” was his second film.
  • Ami Dolenz (whose middle name is “Bluebell”) is the daughter of Mickey Dolenz of TV’s “The Monkees” and this is her first film credit after several TV roles.
  • The original title of the film was “Boy Rents Girl.” Thank goodness for the change.
  • “American Idol’s” Paula Abdul did the choreography for “Can’t Buy Me Love” and got a little screen time as a dancer in an uncredited role.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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