Would you pay someone $1000 just to be seen with you and pose as your boyfriend or girlfriend? As outrageous as that sounds, that is what Ronald Miller did in the 1987 classic hit movie Can’t Buy Me Love.
Curly-haired Patrick Dempsey, the would-be “McDreamy” star of the hit series Grey’s Anatomy, acts as Ronald “Ronnie” Miller, a nerdy lawn boy who wishes to be part of Cindy Mancini’s world. Cindy, portrayed by Amanda Peterson, barely knows that Ronnie exists even though he’s been mowing her lawn for years. At least not until fate finally intervenes. One night, Cindy decides to wear her mother’s expensive suede outfit, without permission, to a party. Someone spills wine all over it. Panic-stricken, Cindy runs to the dry cleaners the next day and begs to get the stain out. Unfortunately, the task is impossible but the clerk offers her the exact same outfit on display for $1000. As luck would have it, Ronnie, who has $1000 at that moment, witnesses the scene through a telescope from across the mall. With the money in his pocket that he was going to use to purchase that telescope, Ronnie rushes over to rescue his damsel in distress. He offers to bail her out, but with one condition: that she poses as her boyfriend for one month. Why? So Cindy’s friends will accept him and think that he is cool simply by association. Reluctant but desperate, Cindy agrees. And that is where the fun begins.
Much to Cindy’s surprise, the scam works. Though hesitant at first, Cindy’s crowd eventually warms up to Ronnie. As the month progresses, Cindy slowly realizes that Ronnie isn’t so bad after all. However, their “relationship” must come to an end. Ronnie and Cindy stage a huge public break-up which soars Ronnie’s popularity to new heights. After their big show, Cindy warns an ecstatic Ronnie not to let popularity change him. Of course, it wouldn’t be a hit movie if Ronnie actually followed her advice.
Ronnie’s popularity reaches an all time high. Even Cindy’s two best friends want in on the action. As cheerleader Patty (played by Tina Caspary) says, “He’s gone from geek to sheik.” Ronnie begins to alienate his old friends, including Cindy. All of a sudden, everyone is mesmerized by the new Ronald Miller. The high point is when the entire school follows Ronnie in a dance that was actually meant for the African Anteater Mating Ritual (if you’re a fan of this movie, you have to know this dance! If you don’t know what it is, watch the movie!).
But as with the Law of Gravity, what goes up must come down. That becomes so with Ronnie’s popularity status. His downfall starts with throwing a feces bomb at his best friend’s door on Halloween and comes to a halt when a drunken Cindy reveals their secret to the entire New Year’s Eve party. Ronnie suddenly goes back to being the outcast he used to be. Even worse, he is shunned by his own best friends.
Can’t Buy Me Love is a bittersweet movie because it shows both sides of the coin. First, there’s someone like Ronnie who is on the outside looking in. And then there’s Cindy, an insider wanting to get out. Among typical high school teenagers, most “outsiders” want their chance to be popular. In actuality, the idea of sacrificing your hard-earned $1000 for a chance at that doesn’t seem too far-fetched. People have done worse just to get a piece of the pie. Then again, as for someone like Cindy, popularity becomes a job after awhile, having to work at it just to stay up there. She realizes in the end that everyone is just a bunch of followers. And Ronnie discovers how cruel popularity can be.
What makes Can’t Buy Me Love such a hit is Patrick Dempsey. He fits lawn boy Ronald Miller to a tee, with his tousled curly hair and glasses falling off his pointed nose. He then undergoes a transformation, ditching the specs and sleeking his hair back. He is pretty convincing as cool dude Ronnie Miller. Then he changes back to geeky Ronald, and the audience doesn’t know whether to feel sorry for him or laugh at him. Or even fall in love with him. Amanda Peterson does well also as Cindy. She portrays Cindy as neither superficial nor mean. Her character tries to stay true to herself throughout the movie. Together, they bring chemistry to the screen.
Can’t Buy Me Love will always be one of the great classic movies of the 80’s. It is a lighthearted movie with some laughs and touching moments, especially between geeky Ronald and Cindy. It’s a timeless hit that many, both young and old, can watch over and over again. If you like what you read and would like to purchase the movie (and also witness the African Anteater Mating Ritual), go to the following websites:
Barnes and Noble