Sep. 13, 2009
In the Mood (1987)
Grade: 74/100

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Stars: Patrick Dempsey, Talia Balsam, Beverly D'Angelo

What it's about. Based on a true story. The year is 1944, and 15 year old Sonny Wisecarver (Patrick Dempsey) is just an average kid, looking for a nice girl his own age. He has overly strict parents, and no one to hang out with save for young adults who take advantage of him.

Life is also lonely for Judy (Talia Balsam), the girl next door, who happens to be unhappily married to an abusive and taciturn older man (Tony Longo). Apparently her two young children provide her with little comfort. Naive, well-intentioned Sonny and Judy begin spending time together, which leads to the innocent if misguided decision to elope.

But Sonny is only 15, which makes their actions illegal. The news media and general public, however, celebrates their actions, since it provides a pleasant alternative to the ceaseless grind of war reports. Sonny is billed as the "Woo-Woo Kid," a romantic celebrity of the fairer sex.

But the judge (Peter Hobbs) is not amused, particularly when Wisecarver runs off again with Francine (Beverly D'Angelo), another over-21 woman, despite the fact that she is not nearly as hot as Judy was. After another unpleasant encounter with the legal system, Sonny does finally meet and marry a nice young woman his own age, much to the relief of authority figures in all fifty states.

How others will see it. This romantic comedy (with the emphasis on comedy) has always been lightly regarded. Which is a shame. True, comedies aren't made to be taken seriously. But very good comedies are so rare that they should be regarded as the finds that they are, rather than mere forgettable entertainment.

How I felt about it. American culture has always had a double standard when it comes to sexual relations between adults and younger teenagers. If the pairing involves a man and an underage girl, then the man is a child molester who deserves to spend a decade in prison. But if the couple is a woman and a minor teen male, then he becomes some kind of hero. Public interest in the woman involved is focused on how attractive she is.

The double standard existed in 1944 as it does now. No one would think of sending a 15 year old girl to prison simply for becoming involved with one, or even two adult men. The crime only works one way. Yet here, Sonny is convicted of a concocted form of kidnapping, as an excuse to put him away. His escape from teen jail is actually the only real crime he commits, yet is the only crime that goes unpunished, since no one cares about it. It's not a media scene.

With the double standard in mind, it's the male's fault, regardless of the ages involved, because men are traditionally the pursuers. In the Mood is different, in that Sonny is the target, particularly with growing notoriety. The first romance, then, with Judy, works better, because it seems completely innocent, aside from its abandoned children aspect. The tryst with Francine is less convincing, since both Sonny and Francine are aware of his prior relationship, and how wrong it quickly went. When Francine agrees to go for "a hamburger" with Sonny, she knows what she's getting into. And seems mighty pleased about it, as well.

But the movie works anyway, since it maintains its pretense of innocence surrounding Sonny. He must be innocent, since the alternative is that he's really stupid, as the podunk sheriff (Ernie Lively) quickly surmises. Throughout, Sonny has an attitude that his fate is predetermined and that it's all bad. Only by running away can he escape his problems, whether they consist of licking pencil markings on doorsills, the mass murder of defenseless bunny rabbits, or having your throat slit by homicidal cigarette hoarders. That the problems are becoming increasingly serious indicates he has been making the wrong decisions. Meeting a nice young woman his own age isn't a wish, it's a cure.