Friday, 5 April 2013

Obscurity Files - Don't Tell Her It's Me/The Boyfriend School

Starring Steve Guttenberg as Gus Kubicek, a lonely cartoonist in recovery from cancer, Don't Tell Her It's Me (AKA The Boyfriend School) sees his sister, Lizzie (Shelley Long), try to kickstart his life again by setting him up with journalist Emily (Jamie Gertz). The only problem is, Jamie isn't interested in Gus. She's interested in Lobo Marunga, the quasi-Aussie biker who just happens to be Gus in disguise.




Let's be honest, Steve Guttenberg is hardly known as a dramatic actor. Sure, he did his share in the Cocoon films and started off strong in Diner, but to me he'll always be Carey Mahoney from Police Academy, goofing around with his friends and being an immensely charming fella who always seems to get the girl. Unfortunately, the basic set up of this story requires Guttenberg to channel some deep emotions, making the first half hour of the film relentlessly morbid. Sporting make-up to make him look fat, bald and pasty (thanks to his remission from cancer), Guttenberg's Gus is happy to take his time getting his life back on track; but his sister is having none of it.

Set up on a blind date, Gus's first meeting with Emily is full of awkward small talk to avoid drawing attention to his wig and numerous kitchen calamities that end in a bout of food poisoning for Emily; although it's a welcome end to the worst blind date imaginable. It's a hard plot point to play correctly and they certainly don't manage it here, but when Emily
 meets Gus for the first time she can't get past his physical appearance and declines a further date with him based on that.

This film is all about misrepresentation. You can ignore the Steve Guttenberg you see in the trailer, as he doesn't appear here. So fundamentally flawed is the set up that, as soon as Gus starts his physical transformation into Lobo Marunga, the cancer recovery is rarely mentioned again, despite it being a major plot point that dominates the first act. It's ironic that the earlier incarnation of Gus is introduced to us in cartoon form during the opening credit sequence, as he ends up being nothing more than a caricature in order to win the girl.


Like Forrest Gump, Gus regains his mojo by doing a lot of running, shedding that unsightly weight he gained after the cancer and undergoing a severe makeover that would only have been possible (or wanted) in the late '80s. Gus buys a motorbike, grows a mullet so horrendous that it would make Mel Gibson blush and adopts an accent that is supposed to make him sound from New Zealand. Unfortunately, his Kiwi is a bit of a lemon.

This film was originally called "Don't Tell Her It's Me", but so increasingly dimwitted Gertz's character becomes, it's unlikely she would ever figure out the really, really, staring-her-in-the-face obvious plot twist without some help. In her first pre-arranged meeting with Long's famous romance novelist, she doesn't recognise her when she is standing next to a lifesize cardboard cut out of herself; and when Emily and Gus (as Lobo Marunga) end up paying a visit to Lizzie's house, she doesn't realise when Lizzie's husband calls him Gus and his niece calls him uncle. It stretches believability beyond breaking point and reduces Emily to a lovesick airhead.

And there lies the main problem. Apart from an under used Kyle MacLachlan and a couple of other supporting players (an excellent turn by Beth Grant as a "sensuality consultant" leaves a lasting impression), there's not many likeable characters in the film. Shelley Long's Lizzie is a manipulative control freak (even under the Hello Dolly-esque guise of helping others); Emily is a judgemental narcissist and even Gus, who by all respects the audience should be rooting for, comes across as a man willing to be something he's not. Sure, his character overcomes some incredibly hard times to become a new man, but the man he becomes is arrogant and not neccesarily a nice person.

It's not funny, it's not dramatic and its romantic leanings are ruined by atrocious, unforgivable character flaws and the first half hour leaves such an unpleasant aftertaste that its supposedly inspiring message gets muddled, appearing to be that even after you've beaten cancer, you still have a long way to go before society will accept you as normal again, and you better be willing to change yourself to fit in with what they want. It's the sort of Pygmalion-esque message you'd expect to see in a small minded high school romance, but made all the more tragic here due to the cancer storyline.

The tagline has it right. It is love under false pretenses, and that's no good thing. It tries to sell itself as proving there is life beyond surviving cancer, but by Gus changing who he is (both physically and personally) into a character completely unrecognisable from the start, Don't Tell Her It's Me is nothing more than Grease 2 with no singing and added post-chemo trauma.

Save from obscurity? No.

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