Review 500! Secret Admirer (1985)

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Review 500! I made it! Huge thanks to everyone’s who’s read this site and thought something other than “this guy is TERRIBLE”; huge thanks to the people who’ve given interviews or review DVDs; and huge thanks to the people who’ve watched some of these movies with me.

Now kids, a letter was a thing where you used to write on real paper and physically send it to the person you wanted to…sorry, such a lame joke probably isn’t a good start to this review. But a letter is the start to this movie (boom! Nailed it!), and that small piece of paper inserted into the smoothly running machine of a group of high school friends and their families is the driver for what we get. Michael (C Thomas Howell, never better) finds an anonymous love letter as he’s clearing out his locker for summer vacation, and rather than thinking it’s from his smart, funny, independent friend Toni (Lori Loughlin), he immediately thinks it’s from class beauty Debbie (Kelly Preston), who only dates older guys. The letter (and a follow-up), as well as impressing Debbie when she receives one of her own (filtered through Toni), find their way into the hands of Michael’s dad, then Debbie’s dad, which spins off a subplot of virtual farce with the four parents almost cheating on their spouses, almost running into each other in compromising locations, and so on. Add to this Debbie’s college boyfriend Steve, Michael’s comically diverse friends and his thieving little brother (Corey Haim) and you’ve got yourself a classic.

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It’s impossible for me to separate my viewing of this from my love for it as a teenager. Before the internet, or even the reissue of every awful old thing on DVD, tracking down a movie that only existed on second-hand VHS was a tricky proposition. I scoured car boot sales, markets, and charity shops for months before I found this, a VHS tape I still own somewhere; now, the best part of 20 years later, it’s on Youtube and can be found in seconds. Hurrah for the future! (the 18 year old me would have said when he’d looked through his thousandth box of old videos).

But the thing that made me happiest, that fixed a happy smile on my face (punctuated with proper belly-laughs), is that it’s aged incredibly well! The central group of friends feel like they’re a real group of friends, with no “this one’s the stud, this one’s the weirdo, this one’s the genius” shorthand. Just the sort of friends you may remember having yourself, with well-drawn personalities – the standout is Casey Siemazsko as van-owning pervert Roger, but they’re all great. C Thomas Howell is so funny, able to switch from wild physical stuff to broadly comic to tender and make it look easy; and Lori Loughlin feels like a woman from a far more modern movie, with the merest lip service paid to her being the pining “cute best friend who main guy doesn’t see that way” stereotype of movies of the time. But everyone’s great in this – Kelly Preston pulls off a thankless role amazingly well, and the parents (including Dee Wallace and Fred Ward) all seem like they’re having a great time. Also, future star of “Deathstalker 2” (aka the only good one) John Terlesky pops up as a frat guy and Corey Haim was great in his debut movie.

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It’s a film packed with stuff, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it. The parent subplot is given room to breathe and is hilarious, as are the range of supporting characters who could have just been caricatures. But it’s not just that, it’s the range of styles it uses. It has a hint of the T&A raunch-com; cartoonish visual stuff; some out-of-nowhere farce with the parents; just straight funny material and jokes; as well as romance that’s played straight and works all the better for it. In terms of plot, there’s absolutely zero doubt that the movie is going to end up exactly the way it does…the identity of the woman writing the note to Michael is hidden as she writes it, walks to school and puts it in his locker, but then revealed moments later sort of off-handedly, as if they realised it was pointless keeping it from us with only one other age-appropriate woman in the main cast. If you watch movies to be surprised, then…why are you watching a mid 80s comedy called “Secret Admirer”? Seriously? I will fight you if you insult this movie.

A lot of why this film works so damn well, still, can be pinned to writer / director David Greenwalt. He’s one of the unsung superstars of TV – going from a variety of producer roles on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, he was in charge of spinoff “Angel” for four seasons, and after helping out a ton of great shows, is now executive producer of “Grimm”. This was his first directorial effort and it’s really cleverly done – the scene where the frat guys chase our heroes’ van is a gem of angles and editing.

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I was the age of the kids when I watched it and I’m now the age of the parents (well, a few years younger, perhaps). It’s still every bit as good as I remember it, an absolute cast-iron classic of the 80s teen genre, which is a sign of a cleverly written and directed movie. It’s one of my ten favourite movies of all time, comfortably, and many thanks to my friend Kev for suggesting I review it for the 500th entry here.

Thanks, again, to the people who’ve made doing this fun. I’ve had a blast since 2012, so thanks to Rich for suggesting I give this a go, and thanks to everyone who reads these. I look forward to seeing you for review 1000, and I wanted to suggest one thing to you all. Do something creative, even if it’s just writing about movies. The world tells us to consume what other people (well, profit-making entities) create, and forces any creativity that pops up down closely monitored paths. Screw that, I say. Find something fun and do it, talk with other people who do the same thing, entertain yourself, your friends and complete strangers, and even if no-one’s paying attention, do it anyway.  Write reviews of stuff. Write your own stuff. Knit. Bake (especially if you live close to me). Draw weird patterns on rocks. Paint. Carve. Have fun.

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Rating: beyond thumbs up

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