Working on a Love Letter
Writer-Director David Greenwalt’s 1985 film Secret Admirer is not a brilliant film. It’s not even a great film when measured against cohorts of the B-list 1980s teen comedy romp fests. And let’s be real honest, folks. The only reason C. Thomas Howell ever rose to a DB Sweeney level of fame was he expertly exploited the C. Thomas Howell – Timothy Hutton conflation happening at that time.
The film boasts a bumper crop of lightly famous people who would go on to be mildly famous, but mostly for either being married to someone MORE famous (Preston-Travolta) or starring on a sitcom with the Olsens (Loughlin). Howell, who was never really anything but a poor man’s version of John Cusack, stars as Michal Ryan, a typical 80s teen slacker type with big dreams and the ability to delude himself into believing an unsigned love note tucked in his locker is from the hottest – therefore the sluttiest – girl in the school, Debbie Anne Fimple, played with aplomb by Kelly Preston (who has really great comedic timing).
Now stay with me here, but this plot has a lot of ins/outs/whathaveyous and I don’t want anyone getting lost.
As with many films in the genre, it starts on the last day of school therefore subjecting the audience to lots of shots of junky lockers, kissing couples and someone riding a skateboard in the halls. Oh and that pounding of fists on metal you think you hear is probably a nerd trapped in a locker. Michael gets a love letter and the only thing I remember about it was its closer:
I just love you more than you’ll ever know or maybe it’s more than words can ever say. In any event it scans as creepy even for teenagers. Since this is a teen “romp” this letter and its responses are passed around like chicken pox at a daycare center and carve a similar path of destruction.
- The parents (Fimples and Ryans) somehow come into possession of the letters and of course engage in little spouse swapping creating havoc and hilarity. Actually, these are some of the BEST scenes in the film, thanks to such capable actors as Dee Wallace, Cliff De Young, Fred Ward and Leigh Taylor-Young. Taylor-Young being the standout as the sensitive spouse who finds herself being awkwardly pursued by De Young, despite being married to Fred Ward’s character. Naturally, Ward is doing his best blowhard, which is appropriate given his daughter is the hottest dish at the picnic.
- Toni, Michael’s long suffering best friend (played by Loughlin) is of course the author of the original letter and the subsequent replies Michael “sends” to Debbie Anne, who naturally is HER BEST FRIEND. That actually is a brilliant aspect of the film. There are lots of friendships with the Toni/Debbie dynamic and it was nice to see it reflected here.
- Something called “The School Afloat” is featured as conflict generator. I seem to recall this homeroom on a barge being Toni’s senior year destination, which facilitates the letter writing campaign in the first place.
I did like how Toni and Debbie were in fact friends and seemed to like each other, but in that complicated way rampant in high school. While I didn’t get the attraction Toni had for Michael, I appreciated it as they were long time best friends and that does often happen. The dialog is actually not terrible and plot races along like Brolin being chased by Bardem. And with this kind of chicken fried mess, it’s a good thing.
Question I cannot answer for you: Why didn’t Michael recognize his bestie’s handwriting?
Only in a genre that includes Private School and Joy Sticks could Secret Admirer be considered a good movie, but this one’s actually got some laughs!
A cleverly written and generally underrated little ‘teen comedy’ from the mid-80’s, David Greenwalt’s Secret Admirer benefits from a quick pace and a colorful cast. Plus – if you’re in pretty good mood – there’s some solid laughs to be had.
I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I think you should watch it and enjoy its retrolicious sweetness for what it is: hot buttered cheesiness served hot, fast and cheap.