Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

10 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Among the “teen movies” that came around during the mid-‘80s, 1987’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a stupid one. Not just stupid because of the lazy storytelling and unfunny dialogue, but because its teenage characters are stupid. This is a disgrace to the genre of “teen movies,” if there ever was such a genre. (And let’s face it—there is.)

The film’s main character is a geeky outcast named Ronald Miller. The only reason he’s labeled a nerd and a geek is because he doesn’t play football, tell raunchy jokes, act nasty even in public (one of the football players has a—excuse me—gas problem, ho ho), or date the most popular girl in school. Instead, he spends most of his days playing poker with his friends and mowing lawns to save up for an overly expensive telescope. (Really? A telescope? Is it really worth it?) He mows the lawn of the school’s queen bee, named Cindy, who is completely irresponsible, shallow, and selfish (but she’s beautiful—that’s all that counts in this high school, right?). Her first scene shows her mother disappointed that she used her credit card on the most expensive wardrobe—her mother asks, “Why can’t you be as responsible as Ronald Miller?” Cindy scoffs, “Mom, get real.”

One of Cindy’s acts of irresponsibleness leads her to a desperate need for a thousand dollars, which Ronald conveniently happens to have. He’s desperate to become popular in school so he offers the money to her in exchange for her pretending to be his girlfriend for a month, hoping that it will make him popular.

Let me stop there—what springs her need for cash is that she stole her mother’s suede jacket and wound up accidentally spilling red wine on it at a back-to-school party. This is unrealistic and (broken record) stupid. Or maybe the filmmakers wanted to highlight the expensive items they could possess (i.e. the jacket).

So the plan works (again, stupid) and Ronald is among the elite crowd and ditching his “nerdy” friends. But the way these popular students are portrayed is insulting. They’re portrayed as cruel, mean-spirited jocks that look ready to go for the kill whenever the “nerds” stand up at a high school dance. And they’re also dumb and witless, to be added. Ronald becomes one of them—a snobbish jerk who forgets the better deal of high school life and everyone looks to him as the popular guy in school. There’s one scene set at a high school dance in which he performs a dance move which he learned from “African Hour” instead of “American Bandstand,” looking like a complete idiot. The elite crowd doesn’t know what to think, but then they state, “Since he’s doing it, let’s do it too.” And it’s the nerds who have a big laugh (I have to admit, that one bit was kind of funny).

What about the parents? With the exception of Cindy’s mother, the parents are either uncaring or missing. Then again, this is a “teen movie.” They don’t have much to do in this genre anyway, with the exception of “Sixteen Candles,” with that scene in which the father and daughter have a nice little talk.

The actors who portray Ronald and Cindy—Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson—do give off some appeal, but they deserve a whole lot better in script and role. Their characters would fit in with no problem in a dumb high school sitcom, which is exactly how “Can’t Buy Me Love” functions.

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