Let me tell you about the 1980s. I mean the real 80s, not that thing current twentysomethings have fetishized by scraping all the good bits out of its rotting carcass and tossing aside the rest. Yeah, the music was great — and it sounded even better when it was new, and in its proper context, preferably on a cassette tape.
Like the Cure’s Head on The Door, for example, the album this movie refers to with almost pathological frequency. So, that’s my starting point for any movie set in the 80s — does it get things right in terms of the surfaces, the clothes/hair/style side. Starter For Ten does. And it also gets the deeper mood right, as it was perceived by the young angsty types living through it: a sort of grayed cynicism in the face of apocalyptically-tinged concerns — nukes, abortion, the poor. The earnest protests that the film mines for comic effect really were a fixture on college campuses.
Set in mid-80s Bristol, the movie explores the same territory as a John Hughes film might, but without the outer layer of tinsel. Our male lead is fatherless and rudderless, seeking to fulfill his childhood dream of attaining knowledge, first sparked by watching episodes of quiz show University Challenge, with his dad as a kid. He gets into college, and on the quiz show team, and even scores a date with the hot, blonde well-bred chick — but the moment that Rebecca Epstein appears (“you’re Jewish? Brilliant”) as the hard-exteriored but sensitive one, you know where it’s all headed.
Sure it’s formulaic, but like its spiritual antecedents, the John Cusack dorky/cool romantic comedies, it has enough charm to woo those of us who came of age in the 80s or those who were then busy being born.
Opens February 23