Wednesday 14 July 2010

Obscurity Files #15 - The Sure Thing

SLACKER Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgotten. Leap Year is out on DVD this week, but that's crap. As it borrows heavily (ahem, steals) from The Sure Thing, everyone should go and find a copy of that to watch instead. Here, let me persuade you.
More after the jump...

Walter 'Gib' Gibson (John Cusack) is going through a dry spell with the ladies. Ever since he started college all of his friends have had no trouble hooking up, but he just can't find the right girl for him. When Gib's best friend Lance finds a girl who likes him in California, all Gib has to do is get there before the Christmas break. She's got no strings attached, no ulterior motives. She's a sure thing. Gib finds an argumentative travelling partner in his classmate Allison (Daphne Zuniga), also headed to California to see her boyfriend. They're polar opposites; he enjoys shotgunning beers and she enjoys a good game of Bridge, but when the two find themselves in some awkward situations they soon start to warm to one another.

Why don't we let Lance (Anthony Edwards) set the scene for us?

It's not long before this layabout who speaks his mind and uptight buttoned up princess find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere without a place to stay. The weather is against them and California is looking like a long way away. Gib has no money and no means of transport, but he can't pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. Allison is also going through a bit of an existential crisis at the moment, and needs some reassurance from her boyfriend. Perhaps if the two work together they can reach their destination.

As you'd expect, Gib and Allison start to feel an attraction to one another, but she's still committed to her boyfriend in California. She has to hide the fact that Gib would be ideal for her and offer her some of the spontaneity her teachers have been telling her she needs in life, and Gib can do nothing except drown his sorrows at the fact that he had the perfect girl under his nose at college in New England all along.

Just when it looks like something might happen between Gib and Allison, she learns why he's headed to California. Travelling from coast to coast just to get laid hardly fits in with her romantic ideals, so when they arrive in California they decide to go their separate ways. Gib's buddy Lance has organised a party for his arrival, but Gib might not be what The Sure Thing (a very young Nicollette Sheridan) was expecting. It doesn't help when Allison and her boyfriend turn up to the party too.

The Sure Thing was directed by Rob Reiner, fresh off This Is Spinal Tap and about to make Stand By Me. Clearly he doesn't have a set style, but he would revisit the mismatched lovers scenario a couple of years later in When Harry Met Sally. Reiner had been a public figure for a long time for his acting, but if you discount Spinal Tap for its 'mockumentary' style, this was the first conventional story he'd ever directed. There's some similarities with the wisecracking of When Harry Met Sally, but other than that there's not many common themes in his work. This is more like a John Hughes film, and I'd definitely put it up there with Planes, Trains and Automobiles as one of the all time great road trip comedies.

I must admit, I have a real soft spot for John Cusack movies. I think it started when I first saw him as Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, a character I have a real affinity with (yeah, but who doesn't?), and then I slowly started working my way back through his filmography, ending up in the 80's. I've spoken about my admiration for Cusack's work before, and I'm sure there'll be more written about him on this blog as time goes on.

This really is one of his quintessential roles, along with Rob Gordon from High Fidelity, Martin Blank from Grosse Point Blank and Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. Not to downplay Cusack's range, but the links between these characters are plentiful. Gib could absolutely have grown up to be Rob Gordon, Lloyd Dobler could have led a life like Martin Blank and vice versa. For me he's the ultimate average 80's leading man, embodying the awful fashion and terrible haircuts that the decade dictated. He relies on his wit and charm to get with the ladies, and with Gib has one of the all time great chat up lines.

"How would you like to have a sexual encounter so intense, it could conceivably change your political views?"

It might not work, but that's one of the best lines to come out of the 80's. The Sure Thing is one of those classics that gets overshadowed by other works. No it may not have the laughs of Spinal Tap or the drama of Stand By Me, and John Cusack may have received more praise for future work like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable film with a lot of heart. I'd rather watch this than dross like Leap Year any day.

Save from obscurity? YES

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