american ninja, anthony michael hall, bar scene, bill paxton, breakfast club, chet, fright night, ilan mitchell-smith, john hughes, judie aronson, kelly lebrock, robert downey jr., robert rusler, sixteen candles, suzanne snyder, teen wolf
Fewer films have ever made me laugh as hard as John Hughes‘ Weird Science. This film is a sign post of my childhood, one that carries tremendous meaning and nostalgia. While this one may not register on many folks’ radar as a top notch Hughes example, I happily rated it my favorite of his oeuvre back in 2013. That it came out in what might be considered the most 80s month of films in the entire decade (along with the original Fright Night, Real Genius, Teen Wolf, Better Off Dead and American Ninja) makes it all the better. So, it is with great pleasure that pleasure that I fête Weird Science as it turns 30 this year (released August 2, 1985), a fantastic example of 80s film hijinks replete with Hughes‘ ability to take something that is on the surface a typical male teen horn-dog film and give it some substance at the end. I am unashamed in my love for this film and I can happily report that even to this very day, Weird Science towers above the poor excuses for teen comedies of today.
The story of the film, for you unfortunate louts who have yet to see it, is a somewhat standard territory for Hughes – two loveable losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), cast outs at their school long for nothing but to be cool. However, those dreams are consistently dashed again and again by the masses, especially Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (a very young Robert Downey Jr.). That Gary and Wyatt are smitten with Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson, one of my all-time crushes), Max and Ian’s girlfriends certainly doesn’t help. So when Wyatt’s parents leave for the weekend, they decide to make a girl…actually make a girl, using Wyatt’s then high-tech computer set-up and know how, a sort of new wave Dr. Frankenstein. When it actually works and Lisa (the stunning Kelly LeBrock) materializes in Wyatt’s bedroom, the boys’ futures start to change for the better.
But as always, there are roadblocks. Wyatt’s older brother Chet, in what is arguably the best shithead older brother performance in film history graciously given to us by the incomparable Bill Paxton, is home from college to “watch over” the boys. He harasses and harangues them all while they and Lisa set about changing their fortunes over the course of one weekend. The key to this is not only was Lisa created to be incredibly beautiful (and trust me, in 1985 LeBrock was the pinnacle of beauty) but she also had special, witchcraft-like powers that allowed her certain license to create ideal situations in which Gary and Wyatt could prove themselves to their otherwise unsuspecting classmates. They do so in memorable fashion thus ingratiating themselves to said classmates and more importantly the apples of their eyes, Deb and Hilly.
This is a month that will likely be a one-way Nostalgia Express for me. It’s fitting that it is starting out with Weird Science. I hold this film in the highest regard. While it may not be Hughes‘s “best” film, it certainly is my favorite of his. It may not have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have,but Weird Science earns its ending. It’s honest despite the preposterous nature of the events leading up to it and there is something that we can all likely identify with in Gary and Wyatt. And to me, any film that gives moviegoers a scene like the one where they go to a bar on the Southside of Chicago is complete and total magic. Check it out:
There are very few scenes that are as quotable as this one. That it’s just one among many in the film is a testament to the quality of Weird Science. And despite falling into the shadows of the acting world for a long while, Anthony Michael Hall gives one of the all-time great comedic performances in this film. I wish I could understand why he faded away like he did even though he has resurfaced in the past few years. The same could be said of Ilan Mitchell-Smith who was solid in The Wild Life and really encapsulated the character of Wyatt. This film is a true treasure and deserves mention alongside any comedy of the 80s and beyond.
This film has significant personal meaning to me as I got to see it with my brother and sister at the Rivoli Theatre in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court hammering each other over visitation rights post-divorce. This film was the perfect antidote to the trepidation my siblings and I felt that day. So to John Hughes, the cast of the film and anyone else who had anything to do with the making of this film, I thank you. It’s rare the one can point to one person and call them the voice of a generation, but I don’t doubt that anyone who came of age in the early to mid-80s couldn’t at least tip John Hughes as the most likely candidate.
Enjoy the tasty original trailer and if you have yet to watch this puppy, get there people: