Can’t Buy Me Love, by Albert W. Vogt III

As the day wore on, about the middle of it I thought: I want to watch something from the 1980s.  Who knows where such promptings come from, though I will stop well short of divine intervention, at least in this case.  But who knows?  God does work in mysterious ways, you know.  And, to be fair to myself, part of the goal of The Legionnaire is to find God in unexpected places.  At any rate, as I pondered my options, nothing good was coming to mind.  Either that or I had an idea of what to watch and forgot it.  In any, because I was fumbling for what to put on this evening from the desired decade, I turned to my sister.  She gave me three ideas, two of which I had already covered: Back to the Future (1985) and The Goonies (1985).  I went with the third option, Can’t Buy Me Love (1987), because I had never seen it.  This also means I get to bring you this review.

If the title Can’t Buy Me Love seems familiar outside the realm of cinema, that is because it was made into a popular song by The Beatles in 1964.  Its use at the opening of the movie is the only connection to that band.  Instead, we get social outcast Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) mowing lawns.  He lives next door to the girl on whom he has had a crush throughout high school, Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson).  She is not an outcast.  In fact, as the captain of the cheerleading squad, she is probably the most popular girl in school.  With the summer coming to an end and classes about to begin for their senior year, Ronald looks upon his fellow nerds with increasing disenchantment.  He believes that he needs to make changes, though his friends are adamant that geeks are geeks and cool kids are cool kids.  There is now crossing from one side to the other.  Ronald sees his opportunity, quite literally, one day while about to purchase the telescope saved up for with the money he earned mowing lawns.  Cindy has come to the mall, too, hoping to purchase a suede dress she had borrowed, and ruined, from her mother (Sharon Farrell) without permission.  It costs $1,000 (in 1987!) and Ronald just so happens to have that exact amount of money on him.  In exchange for him paying for the dress, she must agree to be his girlfriend for a month.  Her first thought is no thank you, preferring to avoid being “rented.”  Nonetheless, such is her desperateness to replace the clothing that she relents.  After laying out some conditions, and fixing his style, they walk through the halls together.  Everyone is confused, including Cindy and Ronald’s friends.  It is the popular set that begins to accept Ronald, if only because he is with Cindy.  With Ronald’s rise in status comes a distancing from his previous group.  At first, this is because he is spending most of his time with Cindy.  Remarkably, she also begins to like him.  As a sign of this, for their last day of their contractual dating, she allows him to surprise her with a trip to a nearby graveyard for old military planes.  As the night is about to wrap up, he tells her that he has something serious to talk about, and she believes he is going to kiss her.  Oblivious to the moment, he is instead wanting to talk about how they are going to manage their planned split.  In his mind, he has achieved what he had set out to do, to become one of the cool kids.  After they do so at school, she reminds him that now that he has entered her world, so to speak, to not forget himself.  He thanks her for this advice . . . and promptly ignores it.  He turns into the kind of guy that would have previously made fun of him simply for being a dork.  He even takes part in the vandalizing of his former friend Kenneth Wurman’s (Courtney Gains) house.  At the same time, he allows himself to be led around by Cindy’s so-called friends. Because he is no longer dating her, they feel they can have their turn being on his arm.  She watches this all unfold with growing disgust.  It all comes to a head at the New Year’s Eve party.  Cindy and Ronald come separately, and Cindy proceeds to get drunk.  She sees two things that do nothing to improve her mood.  The first is seeing Ronald making out with somebody else in the bathroom.  The other is the arrival of her old boyfriend from college.  With this last part, everyone tells him that Ronald had been going around with Cindy.  Thus, he quickly becomes the ex-boyfriend, accusing her of being a prostitute.  Cindy comes out of it and tells everyone there about how Ronald had paid her to go out with him.  There goes Ronald’s popularity.  His old friends also want nothing to do with him.  He tries apologizing first to Kenneth, though this is largely unnoticed.  Ronald gets the same results with Cindy, and she at least eventually talks to him.  It takes Ronald standing up for Kenneth at lunch against one of the popular kids for Ronald to regain some of the respect he had lost.  He got back more than respect from Cindy.  The last scene has her ditching her friends to ride off into the sunset with Ronald on his lawnmower, sharing a kiss as the credits begin to roll.

There is a lot about Ronald in Can’t Buy Me Love with which I can identify.  I did not struggle so much in high school like he did, but in my elementary school days I was every bit the outsider he became, particularly after Cindy reveals their arrangement.  A scene that hit close to home is when you see him eating lunch by himself.  That was me from kindergarten through the end of fourth grade.  It is not fun.  At the same time, I felt myself getting annoyed with him as he became popular.  It makes for an obvious character arc cinematically.  It also got me wondering if, in real life, one could avoid falling into the same pattern.  I do not believe I ever felt the kind of desperation that drove Ronald to behave as he did.  Also, I must confess, that my annoyance comes from me better understanding my identity as a child of God.  This, I hope, is maturity.  At the same time, the negative feelings are a sign that I still have room to grow.  Reacting with such disapprobation is not loving, and I should know better as somebody who used to be a youth minister.  What it points to is a wound in me that remains unhealed that I would respond as I did to Ronald.  It also underscores woundedness in Ronald that he would abandon his old friends for new ones that would, in turn, abandon him just as quickly.  We are all wounded in some way, are we not?  God is the only remedy.

The person in Can’t Buy Me Love who is most consistently classy is Cindy.  She has her moments of bullying as well, which is not ideal.  Then again, who is?  It all makes for an interesting viewing that could bring to mind some of your own past hurts.  It is always good to recognize such things and bring them to God, and I will pray that graces come from it for you.


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