Tribute #5: Risky Business (1983)


A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

The most parodied and homaged film of Tom Cruise’s career (yes even more than the Mission:Impossible series), Risky Business is also the film that launched him into super-stardom, and it was only his fifth. It did that for two reasons: it exploited his good looks to the highest degree possible, and more importantly, is a very well written and realized teen comedy. The latter is actually hard to come by these days, Judd Apatow considered, and I frequently go back to the early 80’s to find something in the genre that is truly satisfying, In fact, I frequently go back to Risky Business – it is pure fun and holds my attention for all the right reasons.

It is in fact Risky Business that prevents me into buying into the whole Judd Apatow craze that is going on these days. His films are mostly episodic messes that end in satisfying ways that trick the audience that they have just seen something with substance. Paul Brickman’s script on the other hand, is not just comedic, it is written with the flow and the overall effect of the film in mind. Yes, the film indulges in sequences that are over-the-top and is too confident in itself and its young stars, but show me a teen comedy that doesn’t do that from any decade. The difference here is that it does these things successfully.

The film tells the story of Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) – a privileged teen from the suburbs of Chicago whose parents leave for a week. He is left the house and the car – a Porsche – all to himself, and that spells trouble. Joel decides to live life to the fullest, but that gets him into huge trouble – the Porsche falls into Lake Michigan. Now he is forced to come up with enough money to buy a brand new one, but his lack of self-control, coupled with his friends’ carelessness are two things that make his predicament even harder to overcome.

During the course of the film the characters participate in various escapades, especially sexual ones, and do things that are endlessly detrimental to their goals. An interesting way one can view this film is as a type of criticism of Joel’s rich lifestyle. While this is nowhere near as hard-hitting as say Alpha Dog in that sense, we are almost saddened as we come away from this film, about the irresponsibility that is allowed in white collar societies. One feels guilty for enjoying him or herself as much as one does during the film, because what we are shown is a disastrous situation that spins further and further out of control. What the film also foretells is the cultural change that will appear in the next 20 or so years. The early 80’s began the ‘money is the most important thing in the world’ worldview that plagues our society to this very day. We want to be able to live the life that Joel does in the film, a life which permits you to do any crazy thing you want, from buying hookers to racing cars (both in the same night), without much consequence. It is something that makes the film even more appealing than it is initially.

Of course you can look at the film as many people have – just a fun romp comedy that offers some good, empty fun at the movies. You should not look for good acting either. Tom Cruise does fine of course. He wouldn’t be where he is today if he didn’t display good acting chops in this film. Though it must be admitted that in those days Tom Cruise got casted because of his good looks, more so than his acting. Rebecca De Mornay makes her premiere here and is as hot as anything to grace the screen in the 80’s. the fact that her acting is pedestrian didn’t stop me from enjoying the film though. Other actors like Joe Pantoliano, Bronson Pinchot, and Curtis Armstrong are good enough to not be bothersome, but nothing worth mentioning as far as nuances in their performances here.

Technically the film gets some points for being filmed entirely in the Chicagoland area. Chicago looks great and is utilized to the highest extent possible. It is emphasized by the gentle photography by cinematographer Bruce Surtees, and it all flows together with the dramatic editing by one of the best editors around Richard Chew (his recent work includes such titles like The New World and Bobby). But the most important thing about the film on the technical side of things is the original music by Tangerine Dream. The band’s music highlights much of the film’s most memorable scenes, though it doesn’t feel enough like a score – something that was all too common in 80’s comedies.

Overall this film is recommendable, whether you want to watch it as a simple comedy or a criticism of some aspects of modern society. It is great to watch a young Tom Cruise taking on a comedic role – something that he doesn’t do so much anymore. Also there is plenty of sex and funny one-liners and characters to keep even Judd Apatow fans interested. So go ahead and if you have not yet seen Risky Business, see what all the fuss is about. You will find that it is worth watching and even re-watching, especially if you are feeling down.

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