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THE SURE THING
DIR: Rob Reiner
What’s It All About?
Essentially it’s a remake of the classic It Happened One Night, with John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga as college students thrown together on a trip across America to LA, her to see her boyfriend, him to meet a girl his friend has set him up with; a sure thing. It’s a pretty basic rom-com narrative from there on out.
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
The Sure Thing has long been overshadowed by other works from its director and star. Either side of this film Rob Reiner made This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride, while John Cusack became known for classic teen movie Say Anything… The Sure Thing has been unfairly neglected over the years, not even really attracting the cult following of another Cusack film; Better Off Dead.
Why Should You See It?
The 80’s were a great decade for teen movies, it was then that the genre and its rules were really established, but even near the outset of the genre, The Sure Thing, with its classic Hollywood inspired story, seems to set out to bend – if not entirely break – some of those rules. It lacks the stoner humour of a Fast Times and the gross out gags and slapstick of films like Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds, instead it’s more driven by character and dialogue, getting laughs from the way people relate rather than the things they do to each other.
The characterisation is key to this film, and John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga (whatever happened to her?) are both hugely engaging. Like any movie fan, I’m a huge fan of Cusack’s Say Anything performance as Lloyd Dobler, but while you believe in Lloyd as a person within that film, I’m not sure there are many Lloyd Dobler’s out there in the real world. There are, however, plenty of Walter Gibson’s. Cusack’s Gib is a well rounded character; he’s a typical 18 year old guy, more interested in girls than studying, prone to being a jackass, but he’s also pretty smart, and actually a nice guy when it comes down to it. Today a writer might try to hook Gib up with some kooky manic pixie dream girl type, but Daphne Zuniga’s Allison is almost the flipside of that character; she starts the movie very buttoned up and proper, wedded to her schedule book, but being around Gib loosens her up, first out of frustration, then because the two begin to warm to each other.
Cusack and Zuniga have great chemistry together, and the way Gib and Allison dance around each other doesn’t feel contrived, and the evolution of the characters is credible, thanks both to the writing and the acting. However, the film is not simply a romantic road movie, it’s a comedy, and a very funny one at that. Cusack and Zuniga both have dead on comic timing (see the clip below for a great example from Cusack) and the script is packed with hilarious dialogue (Tim Robbins, in a cameo, has perhaps the film’s funniest line, introducing himself as “Gary Cooper, but not the Gary Cooper that’s dead”). As in all the best comedies, the jokes arise out of the characters rather than seeming like they are happening to the characters.
From a directorial standpoint, The Sure Thing is a slightly nondescript film, which isn’t to say that Rob Reiner is off form here, just that he’s not calling attention to the camerawork or editing, this is an easy flowing film, put together in a way that, along with the identifiable characters and road movie structure, helps absorb you into the story. Ultimately that’s why the movie sticks; you like Gib and Allison, and you want them to like each other, that’s especially refreshing now, in an era of rom-coms about people who not only aren’t likeable, but flat out don’t deserve love (yes The Ugly Truth, I’m glaring at you). For my money this is perhaps the most underrated teen movie of the 80’s. It’s smart, funny, hugely entertaining, and I would highly recommend that you get round to spending 85 minutes in its company as soon as possible.
One of several, but this scene where Gib asks Allison to be his English tutor just cracks me up.
How Can You See It?
UK and US DVDs are available, sadly they are vanilla editions, but they are in the correct aspect ratio, and can be had very cheaply.
Next Week: Larry Clark’s lurid and brutal BULLY.