This may be the summer of 2016, but a lot of people seem to be obsessed with the movies of the ’80s. Perhaps you’ve clicked on one of the many online articles incredulous that this summer marked the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman and the 30th anniversaries of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Top Gun. Or maybe you’ve heard that this fall on US TV, FOX is bringing us a Lethal Weapon TV series while remakes of Ghostbusters and Adventures In Babysitting are about to hit the box office.
So it makes perfect sense that Simon & Schuster would decide to reissue Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore), which was originally published a year ago in the UK. The US edition, which features a bonus chapter mostly about the 1987 comedy Baby Boom, comes in a cover made to resemble a stack of brightly colored VHS tapes and advertises that you can learn “how to be cool” by watching Bill Murray, “how to be funny” from studying Eddie Murphy, and watch When Harry Met Sally to see how “relationships really work”. Unfortunately, this makes the book sound much more fun than it actually is.
For example, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Dirty Dancing? Today we quote “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” or remember the epic “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” dance routine. Hollywood often paints it as the ultimate feel-good “chick flick”. Dirty Dancing is what Jess watches to cheer herself up with after a bad break-up in the pilot of New Girl, or something the teenage daughter on The Goldbergs used to bond with her embarrassingly overprotective mother in a recent episode.
In Freeman’s book, however, the first chapter is all about Dirty Dancing‘s “real message”: the horrors of illegal abortions. The author does give a cute anecdote about how her ten-year-old self went to see the movie three separate times in order to look cooler than her friend who went to see Can’t Buy Me Love instead, and features some interesting backstory about the film’s original development and marketing from writer Eleanor Bergstein, but this eventually trickles down in a multi-page rant about how modern movie studios are unwilling to show realistic portrayals of teens’ sex lives. At the end of the chapter, she tries to liven things up with a top ten list of “The Best Power Ballads on a Eighties Movie Soundtrack”, but its placement here seems strange.
There’s also a little bit of false advertising going on here, as the press copy makes it out to look as if this book discusses much more than it actually does. Many iconic ’80s movies, like Stand By Me, Highlander, The Goonies, The Little Mermaid and more, get barely a passing mention in the text, and the author admittedly points out in the introduction that she “pretty much” ignores anything in the horror, action, sci-fi, or war genres.
These type of books, like the excellent Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield or Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont’s Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? before it, are supposed to be fun, guided tours through pop culture’s past. People like reading about the things they loved in the past, and how popular or underrated those things were, and if these things are punctuated with amusing “Me too!” moments from a likable writer’s past or a little behind-the-scenes information on such, then you’ve found a great book.
Freeman doesn’t completely fail on this front, as her chapter on The Princess Bride is easily the most enjoyable. In addition to her memories of seeing the then-underrated film in a movie theater with her little sister, who then became obsessed with it, Hadley gives a well-researched account on the making of the movie and the friendships amongst its stars. Parts of the chapter on Ghostbusters, however, describing the cast’s script-writing process and the film’s overall message about friendship and hard work are also good, but they also unnecessarily include some completely ridiculous ideas about the “accidental homoeroticism” of The Lost Boys and Top Gun.
The book is also weighed down by the “why we don’t learn them from movies anymore” part of its title. Freeman is not a fan of today’s influx of superhero movies, and she makes that blatantly obvious by implying they are all mostly the same and that is all Hollywood is willing to produce these days. An entire chapter is devoted to the Batman movies, but despite a few mentions of her teenage admiration for Tim Burton and his version’s sense of fun, Freeman mostly complains about the seriousness of The Dark Knight trilogy, repeating the same clunky “Bush post-9/11” analogy that various newspapers tried to set forth during the release of the movies.
It’s also interesting to note that for someone who frequently complains about Hollywood’s stereotypes about what male and female audiences are willing to watch, her own personal tastes are pretty stereotypical. About 1986’s US Air Force-themed Iron Eagle, she says “apparently guys really love this movie” and dismisses Weird Science as being a “dopey-ass teen comedy” that men “retain a strong fondness for”, while referring to Steel Magnolias as a “proper women’s movie”, and praising Dirty Dancing‘s objectification of Patrick Swayze.
But despite the fact that she frequently gives away the entire plot of a movie covered, reading Life Moves Pretty Fast will likely make you want to watch or re-watch at least one of the movies it discusses. Freeman ends the book with a top 20 list of “Eighties Movies I Didn’t Look at Properly in This Book That You Really Need in Your Life”, leading us to think that a possible sequel is in the works. Hopefully, like most of the movies it details, the next one won’t be so serious.