Friday, February 19, 2016

Off the Shelf: Secret Admirer (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
She's hot for you and you haven't got a clue!

Of all the science fiction and fantasy films released in the summer of 1985 -- everything from Back to the Future to Cocoon to Red Sonja -- perhaps the most unrealistic movie to hit theaters that year was the teen comedy Secret Admirer, which asks audiences to accept the premise that both Kelly Preston and Lori Loughlin are in love with C. Thomas Howell.

Ok, that's a little harsh. It's not that my man CTH is without talent or charisma -- one doesn't get to be a leading man without at least one of them -- but Secret Admirer doesn't do much to capitalize on either, instead opting to make his character a clueless and often obnoxious douche whose worst qualities are thrown into even sharper relief by virtue of the fact that he is the object of desire of both Aunt Becky and Kelly Preston. Not just any Kelly Preston, either, but 1985 Kelly Preston -- who, it should be said, is almost identical to 2016 Kelly Preston. Must be all that Xenu blood.
Howell plays Michael, a high schooler who gets an anonymous love letter as the film opens. When the letter is misplaced, it sets off a chain reaction among his friends and family: his father (Cliff DeYoung) thinks it's intended for him written by a friend (Leigh Taylor-Young), while she thinks he wrote it for her; his mother (Dee Wallace Stone) thinks her husband is cheating on her and winds up in the arms of his would-be mistress' husband (Fred Ward); their daughter, the beautiful and popular Debbie (Preston) thinks the letter was written for her by Michael, who has long been in love with her but never stood a chance. Now Michael needs the help of his best friend Toni (Loughlin) to facilitate a relationship with Debbie that's based on a misunderstanding...except Toni has a secret of her own.

Secret Admirer is an unusual movie in that it's completely commercial and there's nothing risky or ambitious about it, but it's somehow stuck between the worldview of a John Hughes '80s film (think Some Kind of Wonderful before Some Kind of Wonderful) and the kinds of raunchy sex comedies that dominated the first half of the decade. It's basically a PG movie except that Kelly Preston takes her top off a couple of times and everyone curses like sailors, which feels weird in a movie that is otherwise fairly innocent about sex. Unlike a lot of other '80s comedies, sex is not what these characters are chasing. Romance is. If sex happens to be a byproduct of that, so be it. More often than not, though, sex only complicates things for these characters and the choice to sleep with someone really isn't taken lightly. That stuff sets the movie apart from other films of the period, which is what makes it all the more jarring when everyone talks so blue.
The obnoxious levels are dialed way up, too, whether it's C. Thomas Howell (whose character is so devoid of personality that we cannot fathom why anyone would be in love with him, especially those that are) or his younger brother played by Corey Haim or his best friend played by Casey Siemaszko, who seems like a nightmare to be around and offers no redeeming qualities. But then all of that is contrasted by the supporting cast, many of whom get moments of honesty and humanity. Sometimes it's Dee Wallace Stone's reaction to the idea that her marriage might be ending (she's wonderful in the movie, by the way, and shares one really good scene with Howell in which tells off the mailman in a misguided attempt to protect her feelings) or Scott McGinnis as Debbie's college-age boyfriend who spends a lot of the movie threatening to beat people up but then gets a moment in which he admits that he really does love her and doesn't want to betray her trust. Secret Admirer is a movie competing with itself.

Ultimately it wants to be a French farce, piling on the misunderstandings on the way to the bedroom. It's a credit to the construction of the screenplay (by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt) that there's a scene about two-thirds of the way through the movie in which three sets of mismatched couples wind up parked next to one another at makeout point, all the result of miscommunication stemming from the original letter. Secret Admirer is rarely able to find much actual comedy in the situation, but it's rarely all that funny. The best it can manage is "agreeable," but sometimes I'll take agreeable.
From its mostly winning cast to its unusually mature attitudes about sex (albeit in a totally immature context), there's a lot to like in Secret Admirer. It's a movie that would probably be relegated to the memories of people who caught it on cable one night were it not for Olive Films' new Blu-ray, which gives it some legitimacy and will hopefully help a few new fans find it. The movie could actually be favorably compared to Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, which is a far better film but which is similar in the way that it couches an honest look at the romantic feelings of young people inside of a sex comedy. C. Thomas Howell may not be worth the affections of both Kelly Preston and Lori Loughlin, but this movie almost is. Almost.

Blu-ray release date: February 16, 2016
98 minutes/1985/R
1.85:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Blu-ray bonus features: Trailer

Buy Secret Admirer from Olive Films here


  1. Even though this sounds mediocre, I still think I have to check it out as it's one of those I missed back in the day. Preston's look and smirk in that last picture reminds me of 90's Alison La Placa for some reason.

    1. Alison La Placa reference for the win. Pour one out for Duets.

    2. Yes sir! I couldn't help but watch a bit of an episode of that and Open House after remembering her name. I forgot all about both of those shows!

    3. I'm running through a lot of 1985 movies so this should fit in nicely. Do you guys have any suggestions for something weird from 1985?

    4. Not sure about what you mean by "weird" as that is a matter of taste. Greenaway's "A Zed & Two Noughts" fits the weird criteria to some.
      Not weird IMO but if you haven't seen Raimi's Crimewave check it out, it's wacky. Also, Ninja Terminator came out in '85 - a must!

    5. Franc Roddam's The Bride from 1985 is interesting. Perfect with Travolta and Curtis is weird cheese.

    6. Sorry, weird is a weird word. Outside the box is more like it. Great suggestions! The best one I hadn't seen before was The Color Purple. It's Spielberg but I'm not a huge fan of his period piece movies. I've never seen The Trip to Bountiful and the Oscars are stupid but how did Whoopi not win?
      I'm watching Brazil and Creature tonight. Any thoughts on Creature?

    7. Haven't seen it but it's gotta be good. Klaus Kinski in an Alien rip-off? Yes.

    8. Loose Screws a.k.a Screwballs II was 1985. Another must!

    9. Nice. Have you seen School Spirit?

    10. 20 minutes in, Creature is delightful in its terribleness.

    11. You guys have to watch Creature...

    12. Nice! I'm all over it, Brent. I haven't seen School Spirit but it's been in my watchlist.

    13. Ferris Bueller's dad?! This is great already.

    14. Bueller's dad, Bruce Dern's wife from The Burbs, Klaus Kinski, Sean Young look-a-like (writer/director Malone finally got his wish and had the real Sean Young in his film Parasomnia (2008)), Alien rip-off, classic 80's red and blue lighting w/ non stop fog effects, naked chick with Sting haircut. Totally not being funny - it's impressive that this came a year before Aliens. Looks like that movie only on a much smaller scale, minus the action BUT there's no f-ing Newt. AND - Maybe runner up for best exploding head scene of the time after Scanners.

      Yep, that was pretty great. Thanks, bud.

      p.s. I love that the Secret Admirer post led to Creature :)

    15. Agreed. I was going to watch Brazil but how can I pass up the chance to see the second installment of Screwballs.

    16. I loved when he was eating a sandwich, while being foreign, trying to speak in sci-fi jibber jabber. Dern's wife can't remember her line and they just go with it. I think I love it. I'm finishing up Zone Troopers from 85 as well. I kind of like this one too. 85 just keeps getting better except St. Elmo's Fire. That movie made me angry.