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‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ (PG-13)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 28, 1987

"Some Kind of Wonderful," written and produced by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch is, like their last project, "Pretty in Pink," slight but sweet, a snapshot of three teen-agers' quest for identity. Because Hughes has such a keen empathy for the tribulations of teenhood -- some would call it an obsession -- it's not at all strange that he'd be willing to spend a whole film as a prelude to a kiss, as he did in "Pink."

While most other writers and directors reduce their portraits of boys and girls to sex fantasies and the happiness of pursuit, earlier Hughes films like "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" focused on the reality: how, on those rare occasions when they come out right, words get in the way ... how fledgling emotions confuse kids ... how significant all those insignificant little details can be. There's no sex in these Hughes films, just aching affairs of the heart.

Nothing much happens externally "Some Kind of Wonderful," but there's a whole lot going on inside. Unfortunately, something got lost when Hughes moved from directing to writing. He still has an ear for the details of teen language and emotional terrain, but Deutch, who also directed "Pretty in Pink," hasn't figured out how to translate Hughes' vision.

"Wonderful" offers a gender flip on "Pink's" tender triangle. This time it's an 18-year-old boy (Eric Stoltz of "Mask") who's stuck in the middle, longing for the lovely Lea Thompson, longed for by pert tomboy Mary Stuart Masterson. These are pretty nice kids in pretty nice circumstances -- urban essence is something they'd be likely to use on their hair -- and their traumas tend toward such matters as getting a date and being seen with the right people.

Hughes relies on stock characters -- the sensitive outsider, the sympathetic punk, the obnoxious preppy, precocious younger brothers and sisters, peripheral parents -- though they tend to be slightly off center. For instance, Stoltz's Keith is the senior and after-school mechanic who dreams of being a painter, though his dad wants him to be the first in the family not to have to wash his hands after work. Masterson's not-so-little Drummer Girl is a tomboy who's been Keith's platonic pal since third grade and, at this particular moment, is into a massive crush on one oblivious dude: "If you wanted to, you could be a girl just like that|" Keith advises her at one point, then practices kissing for his big date with Amanda Jones.

Thompson's Amanda is from the same neighborhood but has notions of grandeur and is trying to infiltrate the high school jet set. Hughes' class consciousness may be limited to the upper crust and the middle class, but his sympathies are transparent: Rich kid Hardy Jenns (played by Craig Sheffer) is an arrogant, empty-hearted BMOC, surrounded by a klatch of boors.

Naturally, Keith and Co. have their own support system -- family, the school's other outsiders and, in the end, themselves. For all their self-deprecation, fear of rejection and occasional lack of sensitivity, Hughes' teen-agers react to peer pressure with equal amounts of confusion and courage -- just as in real life. And his well-reasoned script navigates these emotional waters without resorting excessively to teen-film cliche' (class is having a scene in a crowded girls' shower room with no bare bodies in sight).

Stoltz and Thompson are low-key in their roles (and, truth be told, starting to get a little long in the tooth for such parts). It's Masterson who dominates "Some Kind of Wonderful." Like her energy, Masterson's beauty is kinetic, internalized, and she's a winner even if the film itself runs third in the Hughes opus on teenhood (and the utterly predictable sound track last).

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