Picks and Pans Review: Can't Buy Me Love

updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

First-time screenwriter Michael Swerdlick and director Steve (The Buddy Holly Story) Rash handle this movie about teen acceptance with wit and intelligence worthy of that guru of adolescence films, John Hughes. Patrick Dempsey, in a most engaging debut, and his friends—"the nerd herd"—are so alienated at their high school that they have to sit in the visitors' section at home football games. Desperate to be accepted by "the cool clique," Dempsey pays the prettiest girl at school, Amanda (Annie) Peterson, $1,000 to date him for one month. In dire need of money, she goes along with the deal. In a sometimes hilarious, at other times poignant, statement on discovering identity, Dempsey's popularity soars along with his confidence. By the end of the month he's even too busy to notice Peterson's real feelings for him. He's so square, he's hip: When he mistakes a PBS show on African dance rituals for American Bandstand, he starts a new dance craze. Girls fight over him; jocks ask for advice. It finally blows up four months later at a New Year's Eve party when Peterson blurts out the details of Dempsey's plan in a drunken rage. The obvious, to-thine-own-self-be-true moral is evident long before it's needlessly spelled out. At the heart of this film, though, is a desire to teach a more subtle lesson about rising above expectations. At that, this movie inspiringly succeeds in more ways than one. (PG-13)

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