According to the biography, “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried,” by Susannah Gora, acclaimed director John Hughes was far from an outcast in his youth, but at one point, he bemoaned to his dad that he wasn’t as popular as he’d like, to which his father apparently responded along the lines that it didn’t really matter because in a few years, he wouldn’t see any of his classmates ever again. When we are young, we often lack the ability to project ourselves into the plausible future, so it falls to the adults around us to provide a reality check.
I myself can relate to this anecdote because when I was a teenager wanting unattainable (material) things that seemed necessary in the present, my parents also tried to take the long view with me. As in, “Absolutely not. That money is in the bank to pay for college.” Had I done what Eric Stoltz attempts in “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and blown my entire savings on a gift to impress my crush, who might well just be using me, they would have been upset. To put it mildly. However, luckily Eric and the other film characters exist only onscreen, plus it’s a Hughes movie, so there is – spoiler alert! – a happy ending.
In the movie, Eric plays a blue-collar teen who is both a skilled auto mechanic and an aspiring artist, which makes him unpopular with his peers – his only real friend is the tomboyish, from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Mary Stuart Masterson, an aspiring musician herself. (As in many Hughes’ movies, Eric is also in conflict with his dad who wants him to go to college – and do something more practical than art.) Of course, in this case (and as the movie replicates the year before in “Pretty in Pink) this may mean that Mary possibly has unrequited feelings for Eric (that she hasn’t admitted even to herself). To complete the love triangle, there is a popular girl in their class – played by Lea Thompson – who Eric has unrequited feelings for. However, things change when Lea has conflicts with her jerky boyfriend (Craig Sheffer), and she agrees to a date with Eric. This turns out to be a potential set-up for humiliation at the hands of Craig and his buddies, but Eric decides to go through with the date anyway – with Mary as his chauffeur – plus purchase the aforementioned gift (diamond earrings) for Lea.
Well, in the real world, this would be a recipe for disaster, but again, things work out in a way that satisfies the viewer – but also, it’s worth noting, in a way that “Pretty in Pink” conspicuously did not. In that movie, Mr. Unattainable (Andrew McCarthy) not only stands up to his rich, douchey friends, he gets the girl (Molly Ringwald), while her quirky best friend (Jon Cryer) gets the consolation prize – an ending that occurred only after the original in which Molly/Jon wind up together was soundly booed by the test audience and subsequently changed. In “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Mary and Eric ultimately wind up together, while Lea decides to “stand alone for the right reasons.” This ending was apparently satisfactory enough to pass the test audience test, and which also thrilled me as a teen. In the real world, most of us have to wait until after high school to reap the benefits of being ourselves and find someone who is worthy of diamond gifts, but in Hughes’ world you can have it all as a teen – at least for one magical night.