Today in 1985, Weird Science was released. The John Hughes sci-fi comedy featuring an infectious 80s intro song and Anthony Michael Hall’s first major leading role still has its fans, though it’s more a cult favorite than a beloved teen classic. In the canon of Hughes teen films, Weird Science is no doubt nearing the bottom in terms of memorability and being beloved. That’s not a bad thing, given Hughes penned and directed most of the quintessential 1980s adolescent flicks – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, and Sixteen Candles, namely. While Weird Science is unabashedly sillier than these films; more dude-oriented, and certainly more dated, it demands more recognition for how purely funny and lovable it is. Yes it lacks the Hughes flick star power of Molly Ringwald, but what it’s missing in charm it more than makes up for in sheer funny entertainment.
Two dorky high schoolers, Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) have no luck with the ladies, nor much popularity. They’re premature and bullied, though not necessarily uncool in the mathlete sense. Gary’s the more sardonic, slackery one who’s perhaps more confused and disgusted by their position as outcasts.
Wyatt, the computer whiz of the pair, designs a computer software through which he can create his ideal woman. Together in his bedroom, he and Gary spitball the qualities they want in a woman. Big boobs, no bigger boobs. Kind, motherly, a good cook, drop-dead gorgeous. Most importantly, they want a woman who’s deeply obsessed with and committed to them. They spare no fantasy.
To their surprise, Wyatt’s enormous computer seemingly starts malfunctioning as a whirlwind of energy fills the room. The “digital” woman of their dreams appears as a real-looking, physically present human woman, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock.) She’s stunning, smart, and best of all a loyal servant to these teen dorks.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, Wyatt’s parents are out of town for the week and Wyatt’s dickish military older brother Chet (Bill Paxton) is in charge. Over the course of a week, the boys want to live it up with Lisa and show her off, while also keeping their computer-generated woman a secret from Chet. Their new beautiful lover Lisa does, in fact, help Gary and Wyatt make friends. School bullies Ian (Robert Downey Jr.) and Max (Robert Rusler) can’t help but respect the dorks they torment. Girls from school develop jealousy. A house party at Wyatt’s turns into pure mayhem. It’s a fun ride all-around, with a few added lessons in the mix.
In the modern age of digital connection, online love, sex robots, and cartoon porn, a film in the vein of Weird Science very well should merit a newfound audience of fans. It has rightfully held onto a cult fanbase, but even the younger generations can find much to learn from and love here. The film’s effects are hilariously dated, but the old concept stands true – Fabricating your perfect lover might excite, validate, and make you feel like somebody, but in the end it’s too good to be true. You’re always left with yourself, and before that so-called “right” person can come along, you have to love who you are. Beyond the corny and sentimental themes to draw from, Weird Science is flat out funny and never heavy. Hughes doesn’t let fantastic joke writing and light entertaining story get bogged down by contrived heart. This is perhaps why the film isn’t as etched into pop culture history as Hughes’ other efforts, but it’s also a reason to appreciate it.
Prior to Weird Science, young comic actor Anthony Michael Hall had been seen as son Rusty in National Lampoon’s Vacation, and ‘The Geek’ in Sixteen Candles, both supporting roles in which Hall flexed his skinny, snarky dork lovability. Weird Science is his first big lead in a John Hughes film, and essentially a vehicle for him to bring his ‘Geek’ character to new depths. He’s slightly geeky in appearance, but sharp and sarcastic. He’s the sly instigator while Wyatt’s a paranoid stiff. Gary may come off as a “bad influence,” but he’s the fun influence every prude teen boy needs in a friend. For some viewers, that sort of character and Hall’s look aren’t enough to carry a film. They’re accustomed to a more handsome, well-rounded lead, or of course a troubled and complex teen girl like the ones Ringwald played. For dudes who understand growing up uncool and out of place, Gary is a perfect main character, and Hall’s the charismatic performer for it.
Hall’s dry, sometimes screeching delivery makes funny lines even funnier. He’s a rude ass when he needs to be, but believably insecure and worried about his place in the social landscape. In one remarkably funny scene, Gary gets drunk at an all-black jazz club. As he puffs a cigar, speaking in the voice and cadence of an old black jazz musician, the club goers rally around him, relating to and loving him. It’s a delightfully funny and impressive comic showing from Hall, spurring one of the funniest scenes in 80s movie history.
While he carries the comedic weight, at least for my taste, there’s plenty more laughs to be had beyond Gary’s one-liners and mania. Bill Paxton is a spectacular douche as Wyatt’s older brother Chet, with the flat-top military cut to match. He speaks in a deliberately deep tone, belching and making gross bodily noises. He’s imposing, emotionless, and impossible to love. Maybe it’s the relatability, but he’s somehow hilarious; a monumentally memorable jerk older brother, of which there were many throughout the 80s.
Kelly LeBrock is fantastic and alluring in the role of unflawed, computer-generated woman Lisa, just as she has to be. She IS the ideal woman. Lisa also has a few dry lines up her sleeve as she’s tasked with making Gary and Wyatt appear manly and cool. Robert Downey Jr, playing a handsome bully, is nothing to write home about but a fairly interesting character. He’s captivating to watch, with a mysterious air about him, and as in all of Downey’s 80s and early 90s roles you get a sense of why he is where he is today.
The film’s major flaw, outside of being somewhat of an 80s relic thanks to technology and appearance, is Illan Mitchell-Smith as Wyatt. To be frank, his acting is atrocious. Wyatt isn’t the charmer of the two, but his character could be more likable if Mitchell-Smith had the ability to convey any genuine emotion. His delivery’s off. The lines are forced. It’s a shame when everyone else is stellar and commanding. Him as Wyatt could be another reason Weird Science doesn’t have the lasting power of most Hughes films, as it adds to the corniness that’s inherent when you have a technology-driven comedy from the mid-80s. That said, he can’t dull Hall’s comedic shine, and making an outlandish story less believable isn’t that huge a detriment.
Despite cheese and disarmingly bad acting from one of our leads, Weird Science has the power of breezy, absurd funny on its side. Its themes, though sappy, are timeless. Its heart shows, though heart plays second-fiddle to sci-fi comedy flare. It isn’t The Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink, but it was never supposed to be. When a film is based on science fiction comics, one can’t expect the lasting family-friendly lovability of efforts engineered to speak to teens for decades to come. That said, Weird Science does still speak to teen audiences. Any cool geek can see themselves in Hall as Gary. You might not share the same desire to generate a perfect, sexy woman with a computer, but we know what it’s like being yet to bloom when our cool individuality isn’t seen or understood. Hall’s a face and a voice for the offbeat, funny, and misunderstood. Conversely, Weird Science is a Hughes flick on the zanier end, for those who require charm in their 80s comedies but prefer a thoroughly funny lightness. Let it be a nostalgia trip, but value it beyond that – Weird Science never quite received its due as a hysterical comedy, a pleasing cheesefest, and a heart-felt teen flick for the weirder crowd. It’s no better or worse than the Hughes classics we revisit annually, and now is as good a day as any to recapture the magic.
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