‘Some Kind of Wonderful’: Young Love in the '80s

An exceptional coming-of-age cinematic experience that highlights social class differences in America.
‘Some Kind of Wonderful’: Young Love in the '80s
Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz, L) and Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) in “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Paramount Pictures)
Ian Kane

PG-13 | 1h 35m | Drama, Romance | 1987

Many folks think of other countries when the words “social class conflicts” are mentioned. This may be true, in some cases, in countries such as India or the United Kingdom. But there are a good number of films that also illustrate class tensions in the United States, such as 1979’s excellent “Breaking Away,” about a kid named Dave (Dennis Christopher) from a working-class family in Indiana.

The much-lauded “Pretty in Pink” (1986), written by teen-angst master John Hughes is another great example. Unfortunately, it overshadowed a similar Hughes film that debuted just a year later, 1987’s “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Although both films were about high school class hierarchies, I much prefer the 1987 project, not only because of its wider scope, but also it’s more genuine and with nuanced acting performances.

At a high school in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, student Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) has developed quite a crush on fellow student Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). But Amanda is dating rich and arrogant student Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer). Keith lives in a working-class area and, therefore, is at the bottom of the school’s social hierarchy. Although Amanda lives in the same neighborhood as Keith, she has managed to climb the hierarchy by dating the ever-popular and affluent Hardy Jenns.

 Craig Sheffer is convincing as the arrogant Hardy Jenns in “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Paramount Pictures)
Craig Sheffer is convincing as the arrogant Hardy Jenns in “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Paramount Pictures)

Keith relates his attraction for Amanda to his best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). Since Watts sports a short, boyish haircut, dresses tomboyishly, and plays the drums, Keith considers her to be more of a male buddy than anything else. However, Watts is secretly falling in love with Keith.

One day, Hardy notices Keith and Amanda looking at each other at school (Keith is a burgeoning artist who draws pictures of her). Later, Hardy drives with Amanda up to the gas station where Keith works and threatens him not to look at her, whom Hardy refers to as his “property.”

As Hardy becomes increasingly more controlling of Amanda, she begins to become disillusioned with him—and catching him smooching with another girl by the school lockers doesn’t help. Eventually, Amanda begins to gravitate more towards the soft-spoken and sensitive Keith, much to the chagrin of Watts.

Keith eventually asks Amanda out on a date and she agrees. In one bittersweet scene, Watts tells Keith to practice kissing her so he’ll be ready to impress Amanda with his canoodling skills. As they commence to make out, Keith may begin to get the hint that Watts has feelings for him … or does he?

This last scene I described is very typical of the aforementioned subtlety of the performances on display by these talented actors. After kissing Keith passionately, Watt’s eyes gaze into his and you can see a brief ray of hope that he’ll recognize her attraction to him. But then her eyes become sad when she sees that he still seems oblivious, and she storms off.

Mr. Stoltz looks as confused as his character Keith, but there also seems to be a hint of recognition, as if he suspects there is something more going on. He also brings a very understated performance as a quite shy young man who becomes gradually more firm in his convictions as the movie progresses.

 Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz, L) and his best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), in “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Paramount Pictures)
Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz, L) and his best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), in “Some Kind of Wonderful” (Paramount Pictures)

An Earnest Film

There’s some good tension that develops during the film’s third and final act, as Hardy plans for some bad things to happen to Keith. Mr. Sheffer really disappears into his role and becomes so loathsome as the privileged jerk Hardy, that by the end of the movie, I really hated the character he portrayed. By the film’s end, several characters have matured, such as Keith and Amanda each realizing what is really important in their lives.

Fortunately, director Howard Deutch (who had previously teamed up with the now-deceased Hughes) uses a good number of long takes to let the audience try to figure out what all of these disparate characters are thinking and feeling.

While “Some Kind of Wonderful” wasn’t as commercially successful as “Pretty in Pink,” it was much more earnest, in my opinion, with some brilliant acting and directing. I invite you to check it out for yourself.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” is available on Redbox, Vudu, and Apple TV.
‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ Director: Howard Deutch Starring: Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes Release Date: Feb. 27, 1987 Rated: 4 stars out of 5
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Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality.