Seven minutes or so into The Outsiders, the greasers sneak into a drive-in. This place is important because this is where two stratified adolescent groups can meet other than school. Dallas (Matt Dillon) and his greasers bother Cherry Valance (Diane Lane), a ‘soche.’ This this the dumbest name for a social group ever. Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) finally convince Dal to leave her alone.
Cherry decides to talk to Ponyboy and Johnny despite the class distinction and sees them as too young to acquire the toughness that greasers have. After Cherry’s boyfriend separates this informal, unofficial mixer between these two groups, Johnny talks about his hopes for a utopia where there are no greasers or soches. Watching this part of the movie I wonder what their grandchildren would have listened to or what they would have called their social groups.
This film is a chance to see young actors when their talents haven’t evolved yet. The list of bit actors are names who’ll be big years after this film, including Tom Cruse, Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe. All of them deliver at least one badly delivered line, and there’s something strange about watching kids smoke or talk about weed. But the acting could have been worse. It’s chilling to watch Howell and Macchio after Johnny kills Cherry’s boyfriend, the disgust they feel towards themselves after the crime that no child should feel about themselves.
Although I shouldn’t judge a source material I haven’t read yet, I still have a problem with its worldview or director Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of it. shouldn’t the two groups just keep to themselves and save themselves the trouble? As I grow older I find it harder to relate to youth and its follies, and I wish I could tap into that again so I could watch this film better.
Running away from a murder charge, Dal advises Johnny and Ponyboy to stay out of the suburb for a while and stay at an abandoned church. Stuck by themselves and with a Civil war novel, they have a chance to grow differently from their peer group. They eventually have to face the conflict between them and the soches through a rumble, but the film doesn’t reach out enough to make me care what happens next.
We know the classic moments from Flahsdance, about Alex (Jennifer Beals), a Pittsburgh go-go dancer. There’s the sexy dance number with her on stage and water falling down on her. There’s the audition – she falls and asks to start again which would never happen, knowing from all the “So You Think You Can Dance” episodes we’ve seen. What happens in between are slice of life scenes of an independent 18-year-old girl living on her own. We see different aspects of the city, all seemingly separate except for the fact that Alex experiences them all. Those scenes should be interesting to me but somehow they pale compared to the two scenes I mentioned earlier.
There’s also the theatrical lighting used in the film. The dance numbers, Alex’s sister skating, the cook-turned comedian who dreams of LA with jokes that are definitely racist in today’s standards. All of them are silhouettes to the spotlight, looking for the veneration of the people they share Pittsburgh with. Alex isn’t the only middle-American youth with a dream.
It’s also surprising that Jennifer Beals, who in reputation is a full-blooded woman, actually looks young here, and young in a sense of too young. There’s a vulnerability to her small body. Nonetheless, her bike-riding Alex is independent enough, has enough spark and peer support to have fun experiencing this ‘being young in the city’ thing. Nothing can bring her down.
Sometimes when I look at a person older than me, I imagine what they looked like and were like when they were my age or younger. It’s easy to see that most of the time. What you don’t see is the time when they were younger, whether they wore bell bottoms or had really long hair that wouldn’t suit them at their current age.
That’s what I felt watching this. These are adults in their thirties raising children, smoking in their corner office (I wish I could still legally do that), going to each other’s funerals. There was no way anyone could have convinced me that this shoulder pad wearing group of old college friends, united by their fried Alex’s suicide – none of whom wore black by the way, have been hippies or activists. They neither show each other old pictures of play the Hair soundtrack. Karen’s husband Richard tells her that he can’t believe that they’re the same people she described.
And they have an angst towards realizing that they’ve changed in fifteen years, like sleeping for that long and waking up in a different life. Robert Osborne, while introducing the movie, talked about the chagrin that the characters felt. It fits but it’s too strong of a word for me. I would have used something around remorse and reflection. There’s something beautiful about Sarah (Glenn Close) and her husband Harold (Kevin Kline) talking about their past. Both actors do great work in not yelling. The only explosive emotion from either of them comes when Sarah looks unrecognizable, crying in the bath.
In the end, everyone gets to spend a night with a different partner either in a platonic way. Chloe (Meg Tilly, with a surrealist spin to her airhead character) gives Nick (William ‘Broheim’ Hurt) Alex’s jacket, which finally gives Chloe a chance for an emotional release. Sarah and Michael (Jeff Goldblum, RIP) sit in front of a camcorder and joke around. Or they consummate (two married people have sex with people they’re not married to). The Motown music, used throughout the movie, tries to convince me that everything including the sex is all right with these grownups, but doesn’t. If I as much think of having sex within 72 hours of burying someone, I’d be called a slut.
Nick worries me, though. He’s a Vietnam vet, shows up late at his friend Alex’s funeral, then gets cited by the police for bad driving. He’s the only one who’s calm when everyone else is going passive aggressive at each other’s throats. He remembers what Alex would say in that hostile situation with a quiet sadness. Alex’s girlfriend Chloe tells him that Nick reminds her of Alex. Nick decides to stay in a platonic relationship with Chloe and work the property that Chloe and Alex have owned. By we’re still talking about drug using Nick here. It’s either he’s gonna cause everyone pain by really following Alex’s footsteps or have a difficult time changing.
Also, the movie has a subtle pastel cinematography that reminded me of “Ordinary People.” It’s also pretty shadowy when Nick and Chloe and in the same room for some reason.