Class Struggles on the School Checkerboard

Some Kind of Wonderful

 

Some Kind of Wonderful is John Hughes’ redux on his hit Pretty in Pink, with the sexes switched. In Hughes’ sight of American high school, the world’s a playground. The lack of responsibility made to future and to parents sets the small midwest town as a sandbox where identities are found or created.

For anyone who’s felt socializing like a life or death situation, John Hughes sets the Saturday night of Amanda Jones and Keith Nelson as such. The tension is like a war room and when it finally bursts, Keith demands his thought be paid attention. “At least I have friends,” she shouts at him. “Are you sure?” he asks. Earlier that day, Amanda’s friend Shane was pretending she didn’t exist because she was going through with Keith’s date; his beliefs are valid.

There’s not much different in classism as Hughes sees it, if you’re sixteen or forty. Public school society brings a divided globe together, sports cars and jalopies.. At the scene of Keith pumping gas into Hardy’s black Corvette, Amanda only scowls at her boyfriend’s quips and feels natural sympathy for someone she has trouble relating to. Reluctantly, the rich boy holds out a tip in singles for his mechanic, but drops it on the wet asphalt for Keith to pick it up: who does unflinchingly.

Keith’s a painter and his best friend is a punk drummer named Watts. Keith lives with his anxious dad, his exhausted mom and his two whip-smart baby sisters, Laura and Candace. All he wants to do is paint, but his father expects him to start applying to colleges, the straight route away from working-class life. Instead he starts plotting a romantic date night with the popular and wealthy Amanda Jones, who is in a shaky relationship with rich boy Hardy Jenns. Their bond cements a higher status, but Amanda is open to someone like Keith. Once she accepts his invitation to go out in public together, his idea unfolds. It spoils the plot, but he takes out the college money he’s saved working at a gas station and buys a diamond earring, one of Amanda’s guilty pleasures. The artist archetype arrests power from the ruling caste, with his own priceless and unstoppable role. Only the hopeless has nothing to lose.

Future is bleak, but why does it brighten by Keith giving the diamond earring to Amanda? All that money, his whole college fund blown in one night on a first date gift. It’s a long-term commitment to the infiltration of the upper caste of high school society. Of course, the bonus is that the plot leaves Amanda on Keith’s side later that night.

He’s not looking for them to become a couple, he’s not just raising his own status, but he appeals to her moral standards by turning the other cheek. Laura intercepted Hardy’s own attack plot, but rather than turn to defense, Keith continues his own moves, ready to lose everything if it means taking away the crown. Looking at that diamond, Amanda has to question herself the value in upper social status of wealthy students, the friends which come with it and all related expectations.

When Duncan kicks Hardy’s door open, the tough guys behind him suspend their smiles, acting as a backup plan. Hardy wont win this time. Only in a million years could Keith succeed; “a historical fact” is made that night as Duncan declares.

The fact is that Hardy’s path is no longer given the same kind of respect. The revolution is not tonight, his parents’ house isn’t destroyed or anything crude like that. With support from all those below the line of scrimmage, Keith plays the part of the artist to the fullest yelling to all partygoers that their emperor has no clothes. “You’re over,” that’s Keith’s succinct truth to Hardy. Amanda can never allow him the same fair weather again.

The movie is almost over. Amanda and Keith leave the party. She’s shocked by their own slap and asks if Keith saw “the look on his face,” speechless. Keith just laughs it off. “Remind me never to get you mad.”

The major difference between Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink reveals itself at this point. Keith ends the night with Watts in his arms. He yelled after her, running away from Amanda and the party and Duncan and his new friends for his closest mate. She leaps to his chest for the big golden finale kiss with a 360 degree pan-around shot. In Pretty in Pink, Duckie finds his own girl, but in Some Kind of Wonderful the secret admirer beats out the rich romantic intrigue.

Is high school in Hughes mind a classist reflection of society or are Some Kind of Wonderful and his other teen comedies dramatic satires on the depths social standings play? The drama in Hughes vision could be to highlight the anxiety he felt in his school days, which he now laughs at looking back. It’s hard to believe a talented artist like Keith faces social isolation. Losers like Keith are neither to be seen nor heard, which is why he turns to painting and plotting beneath the surface to succeed in life and love. He and Hardy wouldn’t know each other away from the pump if it weren’t for public school, but successes like Hardy still refuse to address those with dirt on their hands, though less exaggerated. Keith becomes a child in that interaction.  Refusing to acknowledge someone’s value outside of their wealth is like asking them to lick your boots clean.