Problematic Movies of the '80s | Weird Science (1985)

Problematic Movies of the '80s | Weird Science (1985)

It’s interesting how statistics show that kids today aren’t having as much sex as we did “back in my day.” When I was a teenager, I was constantly overwhelmed by the Incessant Boner of Young Adulthood. I thought about girls and tits and sex almost to a degree one could call mentally unstable. I was not alone. Most kids in the ’80s were consumed by sex. As an act, as a conquest, as a reward. Somewhere along the line (Hey! Let’s blame technology on the decline in teenage libido!) dudes were more consumed with winning at Fortnite than mastering the Art of the Seduction. 

Maybe it’s the far more complicated sexual landscape we face today and all the work required just to let someone know you want to fuck (because that is pervy and rapey and to indicate that you are not primarily interested in someone’s opinion or state of mind or hopes and dreams is to proliferate the culture of objectification and, if I had all of that in my 14-year-old brain, I might’ve decided it wasn’t worth the effort as well…)

No, today, sex has to be the last thing on your mind if you ever hope to have it. Not so in 1985. In 1985, there was a horny, stupid ideal of the perfect woman and the movie Weird Science exemplified it. Given today’s sex robots and unlimited free porn, I’d say we haven’t gone too far away from the concept — using technology to manufacture the sexual partner who does not question, holds no complications, and is universally desired is a booming industry.

What I remember about Weird Science is Bill Paxton as the hysterical bullying Chet, the song, and Kelly LaBrock. While LaBrock wasn’t really my type she was definitely hot. No question.

This is also a John Hughes film. Certainly a fan of The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I was a far bigger fan of Weird Science. Perhaps it was that I identified more with the two nerds with no game than I did with any of the characters in most of Hughes’ films. Perhaps it was the idea of creating a woman who liked me no matter what my flaws had been. It may have to do with the fact that most of Hughes’ protagonists come from wealthy families from the Northshore of Chicago and these two idiots somehow felt less so (despite the million-dollar home Wyatt’s parents own).

In terms of Hughes’ movies and the concept of problematic moments, the dude got it wrong a lot. From Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles to Judd Nelson peeking up Molly Ringwald’s skirt and still ending up being her best choice for mating material in The Breakfast Club, Johnny Boy taught the young lads of the ’80s a host of bad lessons whilst cracking us up.

Weird Science
Written and Directed by John Hughes
1985

In my experience, there are very few actors who, with their very presence, can sum up an entire archetype without actually doing anything. Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Judi Dench, John Candy. And Anthony Michael Hall. From the second you see he and Ilan Mitchell-Smith in their high school gym shorts standing, watching girls do gymnastics, Hall exudes the very essence of the high school geek. All legs and awkwardness, his mouth hung slightly open most of the time. His is the picture next to the dictionary definition.

Weird Science banks on this as he and Mitchell-Smith enact Hughes’ ’80s high school version of Frankenstein/Mary Poppins. The two boys, Gary and Wyatt, are all desire and disappointment as, on a sleepover watching a colorized version of Frankenstein on TV, Gary gets the idea to create the perfect woman via dial up modem computer. They need “more power” so Wyatt hacks into what appears to be the Pentagon’s servers and this juices up things so that electrical magic happens and Lisa (Kelly LaBrock) appears in sports panties and half shirt amidst the chaos.

“So. What would you little maniacs like to do first?” she purrs.

Lisa takes them on a magic carpet ride to a blues bar on the Southside of Chicago, the mall, and ultimately throws a party at Wyatt’s parents’ house (these kids come from very well-off families!) that includes hundreds of teenagers, a young Robert Downey Jr. as a bully, a nuclear missile and the Australian bad-guy from the original Mad Max. No, this doesn’t even have to pretend to be rooted in the real Evanstonian world of his previous films. This one is pure fantasy.

In the end, as all Mary Poppins-inspired tales must, the boys have gained confidence in themselves (and girlfriends!) and Lisa moves on to coach scores of idiots in exactly the same manner because that’s all that incels need, a hot super model with magic powers to guide them.

Problematic moments & themes

While I’m uncertain that Gary and Wyatt learn to not fetishize and objectify women (let alone create one using 1980s Max Headroom graphics) the fact that Lisa is imbued with genius level intellect — I mean, they scanned in a picture of Einstein when building her! — and is in control of everything from the moment she appears. In terms of agency, she never relents an iota of it throughout. She takes no shit from anyone.

Sure, she begins the process of having sex with 15-year-old Wyatt but we immediately find out that he passed out and no sex was had. Lisa, despite being the Frankenstein’s Monster, is completely in charge and badass. In essence, the boys really did create the perfect woman — beautiful, confident, intelligent and no one’s object.

Chet (Bill Paxton) is problematic in that he loves to throw the word “faggot” around but he ultimately gets owned and punished for being such a turd, if not specifically for being a raging homophobe.

Fortunately, Hughes hires a whole room full of black actors for Weird Science. Unfortunately, they all play characters named Bar Patron, Guy at Table and Bartender.

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The scene in the blues bar is funny in that fish-out-of-water sort of way and the black men are never treated as anything but masters of their domain. If Gary hadn’t gotten drunk and then done a skinny white kid’s version of a pimp-hat wearing black caricature for far too long, it wouldn’t even raise a flag on the play. Admittedly, I found his cartoonish impression of a black man to be pretty offensive. All he needed was some blackface makeup and he’d be Kingfish from Amos and Andy.

Did it hold up?

Weird Science is problematic but not for the reasons I thought it would be. In the lens of 2018, the feminist perspective is strong given that the initial impulse to create is small and objectifying but the creation herself is an ideal of feminine strength and power. The blues bar is pretty rough when we add the kaleidoscope of diversity on top.

Given that Hughes wrote the screenplay in two days, it’s amazing it isn’t far more troubling and, more importantly, the movie is still funny. The avatar of uncool that was Anthony Michael Hall in his teenage heyday steeps this goofy ass Frankenstein story with too many hysterical throwaways and moments at the expense of the rich, white kid to completely dismiss this as crap.

And the Oingo Boingo title song is pure pop culture genius, as sticky and memorable as almost any movie song ever written.

Overall

Scale of 1 to 10
1 = Classic
10 = Burn all VHS copies of it

Weird Science gets a 4


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