The Sure Thing (1985)
What's it about?
John Cusack plays Walter Gibson, a likeable but underachieving college student who doesn't always score so well at picking up the ladies. His latest object of admiration is Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) an uptight, straight-laced classmate who he tries to pick up under the pretence of asking her for help in improving his English, despite the fact that she is already in a long-distance relationship. While they discover that they have more in common than it initially seems - in particular, a shared love of astronomy - Walter messes up his chances by attempting to pull off a contrived advance, resulting in her angrily rebuffing him.One day, he receives a photo from his school buddy Lance (Anthony Edwards) who has relocated to California. It is of a bikini-clad beauty (played by Nicollette Sheridan) who, according to the latter, is a "Sure Thing" - a woman ready for no-strings, no-questions sex. He persuades Walter to come over for the Christmas break, and the latter gets a ride share with a pair of rather geeky students named Gary Cooper (Tim Robbins) and Mary Ann Webster (Lisa Jane Persky). When he arrives to be picked up by the pair, he is surprised to find that someone else is along for the ride. That someone else is: Alison Bradbury! So begins a rather eventful road trip.
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Why is it significant?
The Sure Thing was Rob Reiner's second film after the widely lauded This Is Spinal Tap - and was again well-received by most critics as well as being a moderate box office success. It was the most important of three 1985 films (the others being The Journey of Natty Gann and Better Off Dead) that catapulted John Cusack into the leagues of Hollywood stardom.
How well does it hold up?
The uber-80's opening credits complete with a day-glo graffiti font, synth soundtrack and glossily filter-heavy camerawork caressing the bikini-clad body of the titular "Sure Thing" suggests nothing more than a nostalgic guilty pleasure. Don't let that discourage you though; with Rob Reiner as the director it's a sure thing that this is a cut (or three) above most teen comedies of this era.
It's not perfect; there are contrivances and stereotyped supporting characters galore, all in service of setting up the comedic moments and the inevitable ups-and-downs in the relationship between Walter and Alison. Oh... and while I won't spoil the outcome, I will say that it doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Still, the creaking plot is forgivable when it does "romantic comedy" so well.
It's a marvelously witty and funny hour and a half. Sometimes it's laugh-out-loud (the memorable "you're repressed" scene where Walter goads Alison into an act that's hilariously at odds with her usual standoffish demeanour) but at others it's subtle and wry in its observations of what makes two people click; one early scene shows the pair slipping into a noticeable sense of relaxation with each other which is then subsequently spoilt by Walter trying to seduce her with an incredibly corny proposition speech. It's a testament to director Reiner and screenwriters Steve Bloom and Jonathan Roberts that we're never far from another stretch of sizzlingly quotable dialogue or charming piece of character colour.
The two leads are great as well. John Cusack here is outstandingly assured for an actor of his age (around 19 at the time) and displays a vibrant charisma and flair for comic delivery. Daphne Zuniga initially seems more restrained - in line with her character - but gradually reveals a genuine charm and ability to have fun with the scenes. Again she displays a maturity as a performer beyond her young age, in particular with her magnetically expressive face. It's a pity that - unlike Cusack - her movie career ran out of steam after the 80s. More importantly the pair - whether bickering or bonding - generate genuine sparks off each other, making the arc of their relationship seem believable. As a viewer we want these two to make it with each other because the chemistry between them seems real, and both are (despite their characters' respective flaws) genuinely likeable.
The supporting cast is also notable, with fine pre-stardom appearances by Anthony Edwards and Tim Robbins. Viveca Lindfors walks away with the supporting part honours however as Walter and Alison's eccentric English lecturer, who always takes a knowingly condescending view of the theses they submit to her.
It's a satisfying movie that works well as both a comedy and a romance.
Runtime: 91 mins
Dir: Rob Reiner
Script: Steve Bloom, Jonathan Roberts
Starring: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Boyd Gaines, Tim Robbins, Lisa Jane Persky, Viveca Lindfors, Nicollette Sheridan