Social Climbing in the Eighties: A Case Study


Recently, Beth and I watched two movies from the eighties that I hadn’t seen before, Can’t Buy Me Love and Lucas. She insisted that I write a comparison and contrast of the two, so I’ll give it a shot. The most obvious similarity is that both are about dorky kids trying to gain acceptance in high school, and both are interested in girls who are, for all intents and purposes, out of their league. They go about it quite differently, though. Can’t Buy Me Love is, as one of the minor characters point out, essentially a film about prostitution. The geeky main character pays a popular girl to pretend to date him, and it’s his ticket to coolness. Lucas tries out for the football team, and while he doesn’t succeed, he somehow gains acceptance for his spirit and persistence, or something. Another significant contrast is that Lucas is quite a bit younger than Ronald in the other film, which helps to make him more likable. Even when he does and says something dumb, you can generally forgive him for it, because he’s charmingly naive. As for Can’t Buy Me Love, Beth mentioned that none of the characters are really sympathetic, which does seem to be the case. Ronald acts like a jerk to gain acceptance, and is eventually ostracized even by his old friends. What I don’t quite get is why, once the subterfuge was revealed, he suffers for it and the girl really doesn’t seem to. But then, I guess that’s part of the underlying message about how kids are incredibly shallow and not at all rational. I’m not sure Lucas really had an underlying message. Well, I guess not being mean to people because they’re different is the main theme, but that’s something that they make clear from the very beginning, not something they build up over the course of the film. Lucas is the more meandering film of the two. Overall, though, I think one of the main things I got out of both is that high school is full of assholes.

One other thing I noticed is that both Ronald and Lucas had nerdy friends at the beginnings of their respective films, which made me think they were already ahead of me when I was in high school. Some people just don’t appreciate what they have, I guess. Lucas even had a girl who was interested in him, played by Winona Ryder, and he repeatedly blew her off for no apparent reason. Maybe he didn’t like that she’d almost married Beetlejuice. (Okay, okay, that was two years later. Lucas was actually Ryder’s first film role; she was only fourteen at the time.) Also, one similarity that’s more or less irrelevant but still kind of interesting is that both of the protagonists do some sort of landscaping work. Ronald mows lawns and Lucas works for a gardener. Oh, and Lucas also gave us Charlie Sheen as a jock who ISN’T a total jerk. Too bad he didn’t turn out that way in real life.

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