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Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) have had no luck breaking out of their geeky roles in school. Tormented by Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Rusler) for admiring their girlfriends Hilly (Judie Aronson) and Deb (Suzanne Snyder), they once again find themselves alone. At Wyatt’s house, whose parents have left for the weekend, they use Wyatt’s computer skills to design a program that simulates a woman so they can ask it questions. Wearing bras on their heads, they connect electrodes to a Barbie doll and hack into a government computer system for more power. Combined with a freak storm passing overhead, shockingly, this works and a real, flesh and blood woman appears in their house. Not only that, she has incredible powers that allow her to manifest nearly anything she imagines. From there, “Lisa” teaches the boys to become men and does more than they expect in boosting their confidence and putting them on track to being popular boys.
Directed by John Hughes, Weird Science is a bit of a departure from his usual work, adding fantasy to his tried and true teen angst stories. Casting Hall, who became a household name after his breakout role in Hughes’ Sixteen Candles, helped quickly establish the boys as outsiders, merely by audiences already recognizing him as one from playing Farmer Ted. Nerds were a big draw in the movies in this era, typically as underdogs winning the day, and Hall embraces it well. The story is decidedly silly, going out of its way to be so, and yet it finds its mark early and commits to the premise from start to finish. Where it does best is with Lisa, played perfectly by Kelly LeBrock, who the year before had spun heads at the titular girl in Gene Wilder‘s Woman in Red. Using her natural beauty, Hughes does it right by completely abandoning where it everyone watching thinks it will go with her. Despite the obvious allure and sexuality Lisa possesses, that is not her role and LeBrock instead makes her a sensitive, intelligent character who, from her very first line, knows exactly what is going on. No matter the promise we believe is coming, with Playboy centerfolds and ungainly computer generated breasts, what we get is a motherly type, a woman of uncommon compassion that instantly sizes up the situation and takes care of her boys. While the film ultimately goes over-the-top and loses some of its welcome as it progresses, it remains a classic and rightfully earns its place as a cherished film of the 80s.
The boys have had enough. Out of options and inspired by a the 1931 monster movie Frankenstein, they decide to create a girl. In Wyatt’s room, where he has the latest and best personal computer equipment, they begin simply, sketching out the basics for the perfect girl. That starts with breasts, naturally, as their adolescent, sexually occupied brains think physical first. They decide she needs a bring right after so they can ask her important stuff (and play chess). As their imaginations kick in, they input scanned images from Playboy magazines and everything they imagine they think is a woman and build their computer model. With limited power, their program isn’t what they hope and so Wyatt, using a phone modem, hacks into a government power system, tapping into its power. The boys then don brassieres over their heads (for tradition) and lay a Barbi doll out with some wires, just like the creature in the movie. This is timed with a passing electrical storm that sends a cavalcade of lighting shocks throughout the house, boosting power beyond the computers capacity, filling the room with wind and light, affecting the entire neighborhood in mysterious ways. When it’s over, the room a shambles of dust and debris, the bedroom door blown out and filled with a warm pink light, in steps a pair of nude shapely legs. Leaning on the doorframe is a startling attractive woman, a sensual smile on her lips. She says, “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”
In order to make the premise work, it must be ridiculous. This is after all a comedy. The idea of a creating a woman for pleasure is not new of course, but to avoid the creepy clichés, let alone the macabre of following the Frankenstein inspiration and digging up a corpse, Hughes wisely opts to conjure rather and assemble a women. His heroes are inexperienced boys, their knowledge of a women framed around the images they see in movies and magazines: idealized sexual creatures that are beyond their reach. What’s important in all of this, and often overlooked is that these boys do have authentic feelings for girls. Hilly and Deb, while not given a lot of screen time, are the ultimate goal. As their current boyfriends are jock-ish types, this is naturally how Gary and Wyatt think they should be. While the ‘rescue’ of them in the film’s final act is bit sexist by today’s standards, it does at least give the theme of the story some closure. Back to the creation. Hughes has Gary and Wyatt look and act as if they have no idea what a girl is beyond their vivid imaginations. Wearing bras on their heads is more than a visual gag, it is a metaphor for their one-dimensional thinking. The literally have breasts on their minds. This is the superficial extent of what they think will make them happy. It is with almost an afterthought they add a brain.
The creation sequence is a masterstroke in teaching the audience that what we are seeing is beyond reality. To suspend our disbelief, we must know that what is happening must not only be convincing, it must be absurd, an admittedly difficult balance to keep. As the boys are clicking away at the computer and fumbling through nudie pics and floppy drives, outside, a storm unlike any other is brewing, and cleverly, we are meant to believe it is both natural and one fused with the additional power the powers have tapped into with the government (in one of the easiest hacking moments in movies). Around the neighborhood, things go crazy. Storm drains explode, gale force winds sweep in, the sky fills with red clouds, a dog is actually sitting on the ceiling. These are all visual cues that help close the gap for the leap we have to make as an audience in getting the woman in the movie. When she does appear, encircle in pick fog and light, we get the humor and have long left behind any skepticism. We’re happily in for the ride.
Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Rusler, Judie Aronson, Suzanne Snyder