Here’s the story: high-schooler Lane Myer (John Cusack) is in love with his girlfriend Beth. Beth, however, doesn’t love Lane, and she dumps Lane for Roy, the captain of the school’s ski team. This causes Lane to become suicidal. Fortunately for him, his half-hearted attempts to kill himself fail. Soon enough, he meets the foreign exchange student who is staying with his neighbors. They fall in love. And when Roy insults Lane’s new girlfriend, Lane decides to defend her honor with a ski race. Sounds like a Hallmark film, doesn’t it? Yeah, it’s not.
Steven Holland’s approach was a tad bit different. Like Hughes, Holland isolated the things that cause teenage angst: getting dumped, having uncool parents, competing with a sibling, being shown up in competitions, getting bullied, and generally feeling inferior. Unlike Hughes, however, Holland did not reassure us. No. To the contrary, Holland amplified the hell out of everything... to the point of unreality. Indeed, let’s go through the plot again and you might see what I mean.
Further, once she dumps Lane, everything will remind Lane of this fact, like the radio playing a continuous loop of breakup songs on every channel. Moreover, as Lane moves throughout his day, his teacher will actually ask Lane if Beth is available... as does Barney Rubble of all people.
Family is another area of angst for teens. Specifically, you see a lot of teen films about competing with a superior sibling or teens who struggle with having uncool parents who don’t understand them. Holland gives us this in spades. For example, Lane’s little brother can build a spaceship and pick up trashy women. Lane’s mother does insane things (note what she’s cooking in the image below). And Lane’s father sets Lane up with the most hilarious blind date. Again, each character is so far over the top that they become ridiculous.
The whole film is like this. Everything that happens in Lane’s life is exaggerated. Whereas John Hughes tried to downplay people’s angst and make people realize that it wasn’t as big of a deal as they thought, Lane lives in a world where his insecurities are in fact huge threats to his very existence... bizarre unrealistic threats, which make you laugh. This makes for a strong film which forces you to laugh.
All of this adds up very nicely. The romance is strong and heartwarming. The problems Lane runs into are hilarious. The supporting characters are unique and fascinating to watch. The dialog is perfect and very quotable:
“Two dollars!” “A car is not a toy!” “Sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.” “He keeps putting his testicles all over me.” “Do you mind if I take out Beth?” “This... was your assignment.” “What’s a little boy like you doing with big boy smut like this?” “Everyone will be wearing them.” “You like raisins.” “Didn't ask for a dime.”The acting is understated for a teen movie, but sells the movie perfectly. Moreover, Holland was smart enough to make the world just unreal enough to be truly funny, but grounded enough to keep us from seeing this film as a parody, and he did that by telling us that we are basically seeing the world through the exaggerated, blown-out-of-proportion world of an angst-ridden teenager.
This is why this film works so wonderfully. And if you’ve never seen this one, then I absolutely recommend that you do. This one is brilliantly funny in a way you just don’t often see and haven’t seen in a long time.