I’d known for years that Emilio Estevez was in the movie of this, but I’d always kind of assumed it was as the narrator character. You know, the lead. Before I started watching it, I thought, “But that’s really miscasting, if you think about it, because he looks a lot like the description of the other one.” And then the movie starts, and he’s hotwiring a car, he calls the other character Bryon, and I thought, “Oh, good. So it’s not just me, then.” He’s not quite at his blondest in this, which would make it fully appropriate, but he’s still in the role he ought to be.
Mark and Bryon are best friends. When Mark was little, his parents shot one another, and he’s been staying with Bryon and his mom ever since. Bryon has something of a reputation as a ladies’ man; he has recently been dumped by Angela Shepard. While he’s visiting his mom in the hospital, he encounters Cathy Carlson, who has been away at boarding school and is now back; Bryon’s somewhat protective of her younger brother, who goes by M&M. He’s also friends with Charlie, the brother of an ex-girlfriend, who owns a local pool hall. But Mark has always been his brother, even if they aren’t related by blood.
It’s hard to explain the plot without giving too much of it away, but it is, of course, a coming-of-age story. S. E. Hinton basically never wrote anything else. (She’s still alive, but she doesn’t seem to be writing anymore.) Bryon is growing up, and Mark feels lost by who he’s growing into. Bryon is becoming a responsible adult, and Mark literally doesn’t understand Bryon’s sense of responsibility. As Bryon slowly begins to realize, Mark doesn’t feel most things the average person should. He has no conscience. He loves Bryon, but only Bryon.
The original screenplay apparently followed the book pretty closely, and the studio made Estevez go change it. It’s the first one he wrote, and presumably he didn’t feel as though he had the pull to make the movie he wanted. So instead of being in Tulsa in the ‘60s, and a quasi-sequel to The Outsiders (Ponyboy Curtis is a character in the book, and Angela’s brothers are in The Outsiders), it’s now in the Twin Cities in the ‘80s. The bones are there; it’s still Bryon (Craig Sheffer) and Mark (Estevez). Bryon’s mom (Barbara Babcock). Cathy (Kim Delaney) and M&M (Frank Howard). Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and Angela (Jill Schoelen) and Curly (Matthew Dudley).
But it misses something, moving into the ‘80s. M&M’s conflict with his father is sillier—his hair brushes his ears, and it’s implausible that his father would give him that much grief over hair that’s not even long by ‘80s standards. Charlie’s girlfriend refusing to marry him is sad, but it’s nothing on the idea that he got drafted. Putting him in a military cemetery and saying he’d been a sergeant in Vietnam is a weird tribute to that. Making Curly a punk of the ‘80s kind as opposed to a punk-as-in-hood is definitely a choice. I will say that Mark and Bryon may be the only white kids in ‘80s cinema to hang out with a black kid.
Like, I don’t want to rhapsodize about the innocence of the ‘60s or anything. The original book includes a sequence wherein someone tells a story about being beat up by a bunch of black people basically as punishment for how much white people who are not him suck. And after all the previous book involved a big gang fight and a death in self-defense and things, all of which were worsened by class issues. However, the attitudes of the ‘60s don’t play well in the ‘80s. The attitudes about drugs in particular don’t feel as though they could’ve survived the ‘70s. Even the silliest bit, the stuff about LSD, would’ve been laughed out of an ‘80s theatre.
Christopher Cain is not the world’s most accomplished director, goodness knows; probably what he’s best known for is his next project with Estevez, Young Guns. But some of this movie is really well done. Maybe it’s no Outsiders or Rumblefish, but it could be a whole lot worse. The slowly increasing tension between Bryon and Mark, the shot where Mark is telling his story on a rainy night—these are solid pieces of filmmaking. And if the mild-synth “Love Theme” while Bryon is making out with Cathy is bad, well, that’s movies made in 1982 for you.
I’ve missed a couple of months from not doing my reading and viewing in time, but I’ve added a recurring event to my calendar a week in advance to remind me, so we should be getting ready next month to go down to that old Tallahatchie Bridge with Ode to Billy Joe, and, yes, I know it was a song first, but there’s a book in there, too. You can replace my copy of it by supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi!