Can’t Buy Me Love

Can’t Buy Me Love is a tired high-school comedy, taking off from yet another big concept: This time, a nerd wants popularity so desperately that he buys the friendship of the queenly cheerleader. In with the in crowd, by association.

Our young hero (Patrick Dempsey) is weary of his endless hours of lawn-mowing, of spending every Saturday night playing poker with his geeky friends. He yearns to be accepted. So, by a rather farfetched invention, he takes the money he’d saved for an expensive telescope and applies it toward his transfiguration.

The cheerleader (Amanda Peterson) needs the money to replace her mother’s ruined dress. So she strikes a deal. She’ll give the nerd a fashion makeover, walk down the halls with him, even have lunch with him. But only partial hand-holding. And no smooches.

The experiment is a success, if gaining the grunting appreciation of the school Neanderthals is a measure of success. Of course, there is a lesson about popularity and friendship and humility in all of this, which the ex-nerd will dutifully learn. And, there’s the entirely expected attachment that springs up between the members of this financial transaction.

This premise is so clearly contrived to engineer predictable plot complication that probably nobody could have made it come alive. To give some credit, director Steve Rash does try. Rash scored nicely with The Buddy Holly Story in 1977, though he hasn’t worked much in feature films since.

Rash strains to find some tender romantic moments in first-time screenwriter Michael Swerdlick’s story, but they come off as pretty cornball. And the principal actors don’t have the star quality to carry the idea into memorable—or even reasonably diverting—territory, though Amanda Peterson grows on you.

Finally, there’s a feeble attempt to add buoyancy by splicing the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” on to the credits and the very title. (The movie was originally called Boy Rents Girl.) If the Beatles are going to sue Nike over the use of “Revolution” for those sneaker ads, they ought to do the same here. As a matter of fact, there’s more cinematic invention in those 30-second Nike spots that in this entire movie.

First published in the Herald, August 1987

This was part of an inexplicable Patrick Dempsey moment (the first Patrick Dempsey moment, that is), when filmmakers became convinced he was the second coming of Jack Lemmon, or Matthew Broderick, or something. I think the film is worse than I make it sound here.

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