Sometimes you just have to say fuck it, 3.5 readers.
Those cool dude sunglasses. That blazer and black shirt over a pair of jeans. That cigarette dangling from the lip. It’s so rare that a young actor’s first big role becomes his most iconic role, but all these years later, any good Tom Cruise impressionist will adopt that costume as part of their act.
Funny, I had never seen this one before and of course, the corona lockdown is giving me time to check out a lot of flicks I otherwise had never gotten around too. Now that I’ve seen it I think – Top Gun, Mission Impossible, a lot of other big movies that I’m forgetting about at the moment, Cruise has done it all but this seems to be his greatest film.
It’s the early 1980s and straight laced high school senior Joel is such a good doobie. He’s an A student, a member of every club and he’s been diligently applying to big name colleges.
His world changes when his parents trust him enough to be on his own when they go on vacation. At first, it’s a chance for a young man to get his first taste of freedom. Joel raids his parents’ liquor cabinet and slides across the hardwood floor in his socks while cranking up Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock n’ Roll, a famous scene if there ever was one.
Naturally, Barry also invites friends Miles and Barry to come over and hang out. Barry (Bronson Pinchot of Cousin Balky from Perfect Strangers fame) is similarly straight laced while Miles (Curtis Armstrong of Booger from Revenge of the Nerds fame) has managed to find the balance that we all need in life – i.e. somehow he has found the ability to be chill and not worry while still bringing in those great grades that will get him into Harvard.
Long story short, Miles pranks Joel by inviting a prostitute to Joel’s home. Said prostitute turns out to be a man in woman’s clothing (or, according to 2020 rules, a woman!) but Joel, not being into that sort of thing, thanks his visitor for his (in 1980) or her (in 2020) time and sends said person on their way.
Before she leaves, she turns Joel on to a friend who would be more to Joel’s liking – Lana played by Rebecca DeMornay.
Joel goes gaga for Lana and from here, he spirals down a rabbit hole of seediness and depravity, trying to keep his straight laced high school career going while also delving head first into debauchery.
Throw in the convenient destruction of his dad’s car (in 1980s teenager comedies, destroying your father’s car was literally the equivalent to the end of the world) and Joel needs money. Coincidentally, Lana needs a place for her and her friends to peddle their wares after a falling out with their pimp, Guido (a young Joe Pantoliano with hair.)
Joel’s parents’ house gets turned into a brothel, Joel becomes a teenage pimp and the rest is history.
For a film that’s silly and unlikely at times (I don’t think anyone in suburbia could be this brazen about running a prostitution scheme without ending up in the clink), there are some deeper themes.
The three that come to mind are:
1) How your choices in high school really do impact the rest of your life, which seems absurd as everyone is so young and these kids don’t know squat about the world, but a bad grade on a test here or not joining a club or something can throw years of work right into the trash and prevent entry into a top college – this whole process is parodied well and
2) Trust – Joel’s parents trust him not to wreck the house or do anything bad while they’re gone and this weighs heavily on him. Joel trusts Lana and the line is often blurred because its hard to tell whether she’s rolling the kid or if she genuinely likes him. Somehow, we all have to learn to trust people even though this means you put your life into the hands of another who could burn you and
3) Taking risks (risky business) i.e. if you don’t take a risk, you won’t gain anything. Conversely, if you don’t take risks, you won’t lose anything, but will you gain anything worth losing?
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. A lot of actors in their youthful prime here. Tom, obviosuly, but also DeMornay. Booger and Balky didn’t go on to super stardom but they weren’t slouches either.