For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – 80’s Teen Movies here’s a review of Risky Business (1983) by James of Blogging By Cinemalight.
Thanks again to Todd of The Forgotten Filmz Podcast for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s genre has been chosen by Keith of Keith & the Movies and we will be reviewing our favorite French New Wave Films
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Oct by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Keith!
Let’s see what James thought of this movie:
Risky Business (Paul Brickman, 1983)
“Time of your life, huh, kid?”
Risky Business begins with a dream involving the twin anxieties of sex and failure, and ends with the nightmare of the American dream—success at the cost of pragmatism and moral compromise. It is, at once, a rollicking teen sex comedy with some of the sharpest dialog written for the screen that year, but it is also a cynical assault on values that are bed-rock to the American economic infrastructure and finding them cracked and starting to crumble. It’s a movie about growing up and leaving the ways of a child behind.
It’s about having a trig mid-term in the morning while you’re being pursued in a high-speed chase by “Guido, the Killer Pimp.”
Joel Goodson (played by Tom Cruise)—the name couldn’t be more on point—is just teen-ager enough to be given the responsibility of freedom: Mom and Dad are going away for a tony vacation, leaving him in charge of the house. For them, it’s a test of his responsibility and the rules they’ve imposed on him; for him, it’s a rare taste of freedom. He’s got a lot on his mind, what with his future to consider: he’s a senior in high school with finals coming up, he’s got an interview with a Princeton recruiter in the works, and his extracurricular activities for for Future Enterprisers, a small business proposal project, will go a long way to ensure that. There’s a lot of responsibility there. And pressure that’s building.
It couldn’t come at a worse time, what with his parents being gone. An empty house needs to be filled, and Joel’s short-term goals couldn’t be more superficial. There is the celebratory rock-star lip-sync fantasy that has become the film’s cultural touch-stone, and late-night poker games with smoking and belittling, joshing peer-pressure. One of Joel’s friends, Miles (Curtis Armstrong) goads him into taking advantage of the situation with a decidedly opportunistic form of blithe justification (“Sometimes, you gotta say ‘what the fuck'”—the precursor to the dismissive-to-consequences go-to “what-ever…”—”Joel, every now and then, saying ‘what the fuck’ brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”)
It’s a good road-map for the arc of the movie. But, bad advice if you’re not prepared for unanticipated consequences. Miles up’s the ante by hiring Joel a trans-prostitute, Jackie (Bruce A. Young), who sizes up the scared Joel and gives him a number: “You ask for Lana. It’s what you want. It’s what every white boy off the lake wants.” It’s just the first of disasters that the naïve Joel has to negotiate on his shaky way to success.
And false victories to lull him into a false sense of triumph. When this “Lana” (Rebecca DeMornay) arrives, she is blond, lithe and the fulfilment of all of Joel’s fantasies. “It was great the way her mind worked,” he will say of her later. “No guilt, no doubt, no fear. None of my specialties. Just the shameless pursuit of immediate gratification. What a capitalist.” But, that will be a later, wiser observation. For now, he is only too happy to take advantage (with eyes wide shut) of opportunity in a night of ecstatic, carnal fortuity. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s funny looking at the descriptions of Risky Business: imdb lists it as Comedy, Crime, Drama; Fandango leaves it at what imdb left off—comedy; Amazon slugs it with Comedy, Drama, Suspence, Romance. That covers a lot of bases, but it’s even harder to pin down by genre. Teen Comedy? Sex Comedy? Coming of Age? Social Satire? There is another genre that it falls into that clues one into its moments of danger, panic, desperation, and utter disaster, and that is the “Incredible Mess” film, where a protagonist’s goal gets more out of reach the longer the film goes on, and…if one is doing a comedy, things get progressively worse and solutions more complicated. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World falls into that category. So does After Hours. If you want to strain the definition, Star Wars could be an Incredible Mess. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine certainly is.
A lot of film noir films certainly are. Brickman’s inspiration for Risky Business, tonally and—judging by the shots of rustling leaves across the ground—visually was Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist and that film, set in Fascist 1940’s Italy, certainly is a noir film. The world is a darker and more malignant force than even the hero can imagine.
But, the film, after putting Joel through the depths of despair (and the heights of ecstasy) allows everything to turn out alright—everything is as it should be: when the parents arrive back home, all furniture is returned, Dad’s Porsche shows no signs off being dunked in Lake Michigan (that’s a stretch), no stains of any sort are on the carpet (why, the house doesn’t even smell like a liquor and sex party had happened anytime recently). Oh, a prized egg scupture—its disappearance starting the film’s chain of disasters—has a crack in it, and there is a certain white privilege dudgeon made of it. It is, frankly, a miracle that the illusion of order has been restored.
But, what of Joel and Lana? She is still a prostitute and he’s gotten everything he wanted. The film flirts with making this an issue, but chickened out for a flip “happy” ending where they can maintain the relationship with Joel mockingly showing the transactional skills he learned from Lana. Ha-ha.
I prefer Brickman’s ending, which left the chortling out and ended with Lana and Joel at their restaurant rendezvous with her on his lap considering their futures. The dialog is the same up to a point, with Joel’s voice-over providing the more truthful version of his Future Enterprisers presentation—”My name is Joel Goodson. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over eight thousand dollars in one night.” And there is an audible edit of the movie’s last line, of Joel repeating Guido (The Killer Pimp)’s “Time of your life, huh, kid?”
The original last line over Joel and Lana’s melancholy embrace in a restaurant chair—at odds from the well-ordered seating of the restaurant—was originally “Isn’t life grand?” The answer, given the visual, obviously is “No. No, it isn’t.” But, that was a little depressing for a Teen Comedy (from the fledgling Geffen Film Production Company).
Would have been more truthful, though.