Can’t Buy Me Love [retro review]

“I mean, he went from totally geek to totally chic!”

The Scoop: 1987 PG-13, directed by Steve Rash and starring Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, and Courtney Gains

Tagline: Ronald is making an investment in his senior year. He’s hiring the prettiest cheerleader in school to be his girlfriend.

Summary Capsule: I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright, I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright. But I’m not going to buy you this formulaic movie.

Justin’s Rating: Does he even realize what kind of game system he could get for $1000? INSANE!

Justin’s Review: This movie might be many things — a famous late 80’s teen hit, the launch pad of Patrick Dempsey’s short-lived fame, an excuse to play the Beetles hit song fifteen times during the end credits — but a “comedy” it is not. Funny was nowhere to be found, and little brothers Giggles and Guffaws played hooky from the film. So unlike the plague of these teen flicks, Can’t Buy Me Love didn’t overly rely on humor, but more or less laid down a light layer of quirk that belays why, exactly, this was so stinking popular. Of course, since popularity is the point of the plot, we come to a curious crossroads.

Ronald (Dempsey) is a stereotypical 80’s nerd, which is to say he (a) loves astronomy for no good reason, (b) wears glasses, (c) has a geeky sidekick, and (d) dons goofy hats that are the envy of any Salvation Army bargain bin. For reasons unknown to him, he’s kicked around at school, ignored by cheerleaders, and has no shot of being noticed for his senior year, unless someone needs tutoring in biology. But fate has it that he’s gathered $1000 from his mowing job, and the head cheerleader Cindy (Amanda Peterson) needs the cash to cover up a major booboo at home.

The solution? Rent-A-Girlfriend! Cindy agrees to act like she’s infatuated with Ronald for the course of a month (and 30 minutes of screen time), and Ronald hopes its enough to get some popularity rubbed off on him. All it really seems to take is losing the glasses, messing up the hair, and being near other kids way cooler than yourself. I wish I had known this.

In retrospect, it’s been done. About a million times. And lacking any serious laughs, all CBML offers is a morality tale of popularity run amok, and how it can screw up even the best nerd. “Popularity is like a job,” Cindy explains while we look for a sledgehammer to dull her wit. “You have to work at it.”

Well, it’s certainly work to get through this film. My wife, veteran of sixteen (!) car accidents, remembers CBML because she saw it the day she had number three. Personally, I survived by enjoying the apex of tacky 80’s fashion — Ronald wears such clashing getups that extras on the set must’ve found themselves blinded and touched in the head at a mere glimpse. Single patterns are your friend.

Although I had hopes for another enjoyable 80’s comedy hit, CBML is not, shall we ironically say, all that.

“The sleeves? Um… lost them in a tornado mishap. Yeah.”


  • On Halloween night the guys drive past a movie theater playing The Buddy Holly Story, also by directed by Steve Rash.
  • Seth Green’s in this? Really? Holy crap, he’s Ronald’s annoying younger brother!
  • Where does one get a life-size picture cutout of your boyfriend?
  • Frizzy, frizzy hair
  • Ronald’s new look… soo cool
  • Raw eggs R good for you!
  • Poetry! Argh!
  • Losing your glasses, messing up your hair, and ripping your shirt make you look spiffy.
  • Girls dig plane graveyards
  • That’s such a cool dance. Not.
  • There is a long standing debate as to whether Darcy DeMoss’s bare breasts are visible in an original unedited version of the scene with Ronald and Patty alone in the car. So far, no real proof of the nudity has surfaced other than fan testimonies.
  • This movie’s working title was Boy Rents Girl.
  • Paula Abdul choreographed the dance sequences. Huh.

Groovy Quotes

Chuckie: Cards with the tards. Who could beat a night of cards, chips, dips and dorks?

Patty: I mean, he went from totally geek, to totally chic!

Cindy: Iris? Oh yeah, she’s a big conquest. She’s given more rides than Greyhound!

Cindy: Guys, take a look at forehead… do you see a sign that says information?

Patty: Are you into long distance relationships?
Ronald: No.
Patty: Now, then why don’t you reach out and touch someone? [puts his hands on her breasts]

Jock: Look – it’s a nerd herd!

Kenneth: We go to ALL the games.
Ronald: We sit in the visiting section Kenneth… at our own school.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Love Don’t Cost a Thing
  • She’s All That
  • Say Anything

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Loverboy | Mutant Reviewers

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