Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, Tina Caspary
Director: Steve Rash
Running Time: 94 mins
Can’t Buy Me Love is an American film about a nerd who makes a deal with the most popular girl at his school and pays her a thousand dollars to go out with him for a month, propelling him to the top of the social ladder in the process.
While it isn’t quite a full-blown Brat Pack movie, Can’t Buy Me Love can definitely be placed in the same bracket as the likes of Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink and more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite match up to the much higher standard of those films, with poor comedy, unlikable characters and a dull story that fails to hit home in the same way as the best teen hits of the 80s.
That’s where we’ll start off, because we all know that teen and high school movies have been and will be around for as long as cinema exists, but it’s the films of John Hughes, the Brat Pack and the 1980s in general that seem to stand out as the best the genre has had to offer. That’s because on top of getting to the crux of teen angst and the ‘complexities’ of the high school social sphere, they bring in genuine emotional depth and real character development, telling stories that are far more dynamic and intelligent than just trivial high school antics.
However, Can’t Buy Me Love doesn’t manage to deliver on that level at all, and while it may have the vibe of a great 80s teen classic, it’s a far more simplistic and unfortunately dull take on teen angst, with a premise that has all the potential to go deeper, but ultimately does little more than follow a generic formula with next to no real dramatic intrigue.
Now, not all teen movies from the 80s are riveting, emotionally moving masterpieces, but what disappointed me so much about Can’t Buy Me Love was its misuse of a story with real promise. Rather than simply looking at how a nerd can rise through the ranks of the social ladder after ‘dating’ the most popular girl in school, it would have been far more interesting and emotionally impacting if the film saw both characters look back upon themselves and a school system that has led them to become involved in such a ridiculous situation: paying and being paid to be boyfriend and girlfriend.
Instead, it’s all a fairly generic rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags story for the two characters – both of whom are far from the most intelligent or really likable people – a real shame when there was genuine potential to give a scathing and eye-opening account of the power of peer pressure and the expectations of those in the modern high school system.
Of course, the movie is also meant to be a comedy, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on its lack of real dramatic power. However, when it comes to the comedy and making you laugh, Can’t Buy Me Love doesn’t do a particularly good job at all. It’s far from hilarious, and only features a couple of giggles, but far off the satisfyingly funny brand of humour that the best teen comedies can pull off.
As a result, with poor humour, the focus of the movie naturally shifts on what else it has to offer – in the story. Of course, though, the story isn’t on the level of what it really should be, making this a frustrating watch, never really living up to your expectations or proving a satisfying or thoroughly engaging film.
Finally, if we look on the bright side, there are still a few elements of Can’t Buy Me Love that may still make you want to watch it. The lead performances from Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson are – while far from the most charismatic and likable – just about fine, and give off that nostalgic 80s vibe more so than the rest of the movie.
Also, this isn’t a particularly boisterous or showy movie. The rise of its main character gets a little irritating, but Can’t Buy Me Love is a more mellow teen comedy-drama, which is a help at times in preventing it all from being genuinely grating with its formulaic narrative and poor humour.
Overall, though, I wasn’t all that impressed with Can’t Buy Me Love. Far off the standard of the best and most memorable teen hits of the 1980s, it’s a frustrating and generally uninteresting watch, with subpar comedy and a formulaic story that doesn’t live up to the potential of its premise, all of which is why I’m giving it a 6.5.