Why It Took 30 Years For 'Risky Business' To Be Recognized As A Work Of Genius!


Back in August of 1983, my friends and I piled into Biff Hennigan's station wagon and chugged the 25 miles to the nearest mall with a theater to see "Risky Business". At the time, there was little to distinguish this film from any other teenage coming-of-age movie of the day, especially when you consider that the film starred four relative unknowns: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Curtis Armstrong, and Bronson Pinchot, among others.

All four would go on to have notable Hollywood careers, but nobody knew that in 1983.



Nor could we have known that the film's writer and director, Chicago native Paul Brickman, would respond to the film's landmark success by turning down scripts for "Rain Man" and "Forrest Gump" before leaving Hollywood altogether.

Despite the film's runaway success giving him carte blanche in Hollywood, the onslaught of interest from studios who'd otherwise refused to give him the time of day and a battle with Geffen Pictures over his intended ending to "Risky Business" would lead to seven years of inactivity on Brickman's part.



Cruise, on the other hand, used 1983 as the launching pad into Hollywood's upper echelon, appearing in "The Outsiders" in March, "Risky Business" in August, and "All The Right Moves" in October.

At the time, we aficionados of the teenage movie genre regarded "Risky Business" as entertaining, sure, but not a "career-maker" by any stretch.

The idea that the film was a dark, introspective parody of said teen genre is just a wee bit revisionist.

Granted, Brickman has a keen eye for detail that never relents and rewards repeat viewings.

Likewise, the casting is as inspired as any movie of the time. Keep in mind that De Mornay, Armstrong, and Pinchot were making their film debuts.

If anything, the casting of Rebecca De Mornay as Lana, the street-wise prostitute who helps Joel (Cruise) earn a little cash after he sinks his dad's prized Porsche beneath five feet of water, is both inspired and perhaps the film's only case of miscasting.

As much as this writer believes that De Mornay brings the necessary grit and toughness that the role requires, one can't help think that Joel's fantasy woman might have been more along the lines of the stereotypical long-legged beauties that Joel and Lana wound up inviting to his house for one night of commerce and "human fulfillment".

Put someone like Kelly Le Brock (who would rise to fame in 1984 via her star turn in "The Woman In Red" and again a year later in John Hughes' "Weird Science") in such a role and suddenly that love in his living room, or on the Chicago el train, literally jump off the screen.



Of course, by casting De Mornay, Brickman ensured that the focus would remain on Cruise's character and that the film wouldn't devolve into a T&A flick.

As for the suggestion that Brickman's script was a parody of teen films at the time, my teenage self would shakes his head quite emphatically at this suggestion. This is no "Naked Gun" or "Airplane", but, rather, an intelligent and complex teen drama that set the stage for the likes of John Hughes to continue to make intelligent teenage films.

In fact, Hughes' own "Ferris Beuller's Day Off" shares more than a few obvious similarities to "Risky Business", such as a spontaneous dance scene, exploration of the inherent darkness experienced by a group of rich kids in the suburbs, and, last but not least, the destruction of a father's beloved sports car.

This writer would go so far as to say that, without Paul Brickman paving the way, John Hughes might have never seen the promise of writing and directing films like "Ferris Beuller's Day Off", "The Breakfast Club" or "Pretty In Pink".

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