Today’s teens have Michael Cera as their on-screen surrogate, the man-child cast to trip and stumble into love in movies like “Juno” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.”
Teens of the ’80s had it much better.
They got to watch John Cusack go through those same awkward paces in “Better Off Dead,” “Say Anything” and “The Sure Thing.”
The latter gets less attention than the other two Cusack films, and that’s a shame. Director Rob Reiner’s 1985 ode to love trumping hormones remains enormously appealing. It’s a rom-com brimming with emotion, palpable chemistry and, of course, show tunes.
“Feelings … nothing more than…. feelings!”
Boy Meets Girl (Who Already Has a Boy)
College freshman Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) isn’t adjusting well to academia. He’s made a few good friends, but his roommate constantly boots him out of their room for some, ahem, privacy. And every time Gib tries one of his stale lines on a co-ed he strikes out.
When he spots Alison (Daphne Zuniga) he decides to play the “pathetic” card, followed by the full court press. She rebuffs his advances, but as fate would have it they end up sharing a ride to California over college break.
DID YOU KNOW? A 16-year-old John Cusack had to seek legal emancipation from his parents in order to appear in “The Sure Thing” on location.
She wants to visit her oh, so boring beau, while he has another meeting in mind. His pal Lance (Anthony Edwards pre-”ER”) has set him up with a “sure thing,” a California cutie (Nicolette Sheridan) with a perfect tan and an inability to say “no.”
Along the way Gib and Alison endure a show tune-loving couple, a creepy driver and the gnawing sense that they may be perfect for each other.
These Comic Moments Aren’t Sure Things
“The Sure Thing” occasionally asks too much of Cusack, a flaw common to some of Reiner’s best work. The director’s sitcom instincts sell the comedy too hard, something that also marred sequences in Reiner’s otherwise brilliant “Stand By Me.”
Here, Cusack plays Gib like a stand-up comic on open mic night, and it’s only Cusack’s grounded nature which reels the performance in over and again.
Zuniga gets the tougher assignment, playing an ice queen who slowly thaws in Gib’s presence. The actress makes a potentially divisive character worth our affections. It’s clear why Gib feels the way he does about her.
It’s a shame Zuniga’s big screen career never matched that of her affable co-star.
FAST FACT: Roger Ebert dubbed ‘The Sure Thing’ a “small miracle,” giving it 3.5 stars.
The film does share something in common with today’s rom-coms, a gimmick which forces the stars to spend time together. But Reiner doesn’t need any other handicaps. The screenplay makes Gib and Alison real college students, preening one moment and then shy the next. That vulnerability casts a sweetness over the entire production, even when Gib is lusting after his flaxen-haired angel (Nicolette Sheridan).
“The Sure Thing” doesn’t feel like an ’80s artifact, one to be poked and prodded like so many teen comedies from the era. Its optimism and timeless truths? They’re a snug fit in any decade.