John Sayles and Hollywood, the Sixties in the rearview mirror and the Brat Pack just around the corner. New Jersey circa 1967 is the setting, with high school as a cauldron of clashing backgrounds but also the last safety zone before the world wedges itself between people. A middle-class princess (Rosanna Arquette) and a brilliantined ruffian (Vincent Spano) comprise the mismatched young couple, she lies in her bedroom daydreaming to Dusty Springfieldís "You Donít Have To Say You Love Me" and he sweeps into the cafeteria to Bruce Springsteenís "Itís Hard to Be a Saint in the City." ("Strangers in the Night" unites them.) Arquette on stage reciting a Saroyan monologue, Spano prowling the halls with Sinatra in mind but closer instead to one of Felliniís vitelloni -- self-theatricalizing creatures, both, who cross paths long enough to demonstrate the social realities that regularly get left out of teenage love stories. Oneís graduation is anotherís bungled greaser robbery, she heads out to college (and the counterculture) and he takes up lip-synching at a Miami nightclub. Reunion is bittersweet, brutal, defiantly hopeful. "Your instincts are pretty good, but you just gotta learn to listen." A tale of identity in transition: Characters caught between emotional planes, a director suspended between independent expression and studio expectation. Working with genre formula, Sayles foregrounds its cultural tensions while availing himself of the moody grit of Michael Ballhausís cinematography, growing more confident with camera movement, editing as shifts in feeling, and the impressionistic potential of music. Throughout this runs Arquette like a sneaky drop of mercury, one moment acquiescing to Spanoís bullish courting and the next raucously drunk with Matthew Modine, providing the extra grain of flakiness that lifts her character out of ordinary coed coltishness. A patchy romance but tough-minded and full of vividly smudged emotions, the oddball human couple at the prom dance soon to be replete with John Hughes cartoons. With Joanna Merlin, Jack Davidson, Nick Ferrari, Dolores Messina, Tracy Pollan, Bill Raymond, Marta Kober, Liane Curtis, and Sam McMurray.
--- Fernando F. Croce