The Unalloyed Puerile Pleasures of Weird Science

Did John Hughes ever sink so low/soar so high as he did with Weird Science? Of the four films1 he wrote and directed between 1984-1986 — Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off — he was never more relentlessly cornball, more sexually outgoing, or more ferociously devoted to overly romantic young-male fantasies than he was in Weird Science, his 1985 ode to cars, boys, and falling in love with emotionally empty women. Think about that for a minute: He gave us Jake Ryan on the dinner table, a softhearted Judd Nelson, and Alan Ruck's unbearable little monologue about standing up to Dad, and Weird Science is cheesier than all those combined. Just let that sink in.As Gary and Wyatt, Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith are two amazingly horny losers whose sad, lonely high school existence revolves around fantasizing about the hot girlfriends of their school's popular jerks and consoling themselves in their mutual troubles; in other words, they're pretty average teenagers. But they go the extra step by using their computer — which can do anything, this being the 1980s — to create an actual woman to serve as their sex slave. (Needless to say, this premise could have gone way, way darker.) But Hughes, like his randy heroes, is squarely in PG-13 territory here, meaning (a) sex will be minimal, (b) it will be usurped by true love, and (c) things are going to work out so well that the fantasy of the willing sex robot will seem normal by comparison. What's more, the guys won't just turn their lives around in the relatively minor ways of the characters in Hughes' other films, but will have their fantasy lives actually handed to them by digital/virtual Lisa (Kelly LeBrock). Despite their references to Lisa as a "sexpot," Gary and Wyatt never come close to engaging in any onscreen antics with her: They wear pants in the group shower, they don't do much touching, and they barely even kiss her. Lisa and Wyatt share a pretty awkward scene where she teaches him to kiss2, but the scene isn't established as foreplay. Hughes injects a tone of such rampant sexuality into the rest of the film that it's almost hard to believe there's almost no real sex, but there isn't. This is just as well, because Gary and Wyatt are about 45 minutes away from turning into really sappy poetic types to be engaging in mindless lovin' with their dream girl. Gary and Wyatt have true love in their futures, or at least the kind of one-dimensional relationships dreamt of by the very young and very foolish. Lisa's goal, ostensibly, is to help these guys realize just how much they've really got going for them, give them a shot in the arm and a boost of confidence, and in general make them comfortable talking to women. These are all noble goals, and really, any 16-year-old guy would welcome such a teacher. And the film still makes me laugh, too; I'm nostalgic like that. But things don't just "turn around" for Gary and Wyatt, or start to look up; they become so freakishly wonderful that the film goes from being a somewhat sweet sex comedy to a saccharine take on fictional love as only exists in the hearts of the simple. After throwing a giant party and standing up to a marauding biker gang, Gary and Wyatt spend a little alone time with, respectively, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson3). These are the two girls that Gary and Wyatt have been pining for since their party started, but it's not clear if they've had any earlier contact with them. Sure, they saw them around the mall, but it's not like Hughes gave Gary or Wyatt even a moment's exposition to say, "Wow, Deb's looking good today," or, "I'm pretty sure Hilly is my soulmate. Now if only I could talk to her." But they're cute, and they're around, so they'll do. And then Hughes has the girls do the unthinkable: They ask for the boys to love them. Hilly even comes right out with it, staring right at Wyatt and asking, "Would you kiss me?" This is the ultimate juvenile male fantasy: Not just the attainment of a woman, but not having to do any work to get her. It's pornographic in the most cinematic sense of the word; she throws herself at him with literally no provocation. Gary and Deb have a similarly ridiculous hook-up, when Gary tells her that he created Lisa to have everything he wanted in a woman before he knew what that was, and that if he could do it all again, he'd make her just like Deb. This is a pretty ballsy statement, especially considering this is the first real conversation Gary and Deb have ever had, and he doesn't even know what kind of music she likes, much less what she's actually like as a human being. So of course they sleep together, and even when Wyatt's brother Chet (a typically crappy Bill Paxton) threatens them with a shotgun, Deb stays snuggled up against Gary's chest because, well, why not. The thing about Weird Science that appeals to young men isn't just the idea of fashioning a sex slave with a computer, or seeing Kelly LeBrock make out with what could be a parallel-universe of themselves. But the real kicker, where Hughes goes just screaming over the abyss and rejects the pseudo-realistic touches of his other films in favor of outright fantasy, is that Gary and Wyatt finally "move on" from Lisa into an even more imaginary version of real life. They didn't meet women; they met warm bodies that begged to sleep with them and offered to serve as a willing continuation of the sexual self-delusions that led them to create Lisa in the first place. Of course, most of Hughes' stories end in harmony and bliss; like it or not, Duckie should have gone home alone, not hooked up with Kristy Swanson. But in Weird Science, Hughes doesn't just present a fantasy as reality; he holds up two fantasies and claims that one might actually be feasible. 1. Howard Deutch directed the Hughes-penned Pretty in Pink (1986) and its gender-reversed duplicate, Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). And while I recognize that the director is not the sole crafter of a film and that Hughes is a more recognizable screenwriting presence than most, I'm gonna stick with auteurism for the sake of this little piece. So, deal. 2. Just typing that creeped me out. 3. It's another awesome moment to realize that Wyatt steals Hilly from Ian, played by Robert Downey Jr., and that Aronson had a bit part in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also with Downey, two decades later. Did she audition? Did they just need a random actress, so Downey called her up and threw her some work? Do they still hang out? I could think about this all day.