Everyone calls Charles Cummings (Jon Cryer) by his surname, he’s that kind of teen, a sixteen-year-old schoolboy with nothing on his mind but photography. And not photographs of people, he doesn’t like them so much, he prefers buildings, landscapes and objects to snap his pictures of, for he is not too good in social situations – when a pretty girl from his school, Mona (Jennifer Tilly), makes a move on him and starts chatting him up, he cannot get away fast enough. Then one day he is taking a photo of a street in San Francisco where he lives, when a couple having a blazing row wander into the shot; he asks them firmly but politely to get out of the way, but they are too wrapped up in themselves. However, Cummings has accidentally captured the woman on film…
In an alternate universe, No Small Affair was a far more controversial movie, and more on a par with The Graduate than one of the nineteen-eighties teen romances so fondly looked back on decades later. That was down to the stars being a debuting Matthew Broderick and a mid-thirties Sally Field, but that production was scrapped when its director Martin Ritt suffered a heart attack, so a while later it was no rival to Class, which also featured a teen boy/older woman romance, when Demi Moore was cast as the leading lady, and she was only three years older than Cryer which was a lot more socially acceptable. Nevertheless, the age difference was built up as an issue in the plot, and the contrasts between the two highlighted.
Cummings may act older than his years in some ways, yet the script was careful to make sure we were aware he was a shy, nervous young man in others, unused to the conventions of dating, so when he gets a crush on the woman he photographed in that street scene, he goes about wooing her in fumbling, gauche methods rather than anything more sophisticated. Moore was playing Laura Victor who was a singer in a lounge bar, hoping for bigger things but unsure of how to attain them, and whether she was really worth it, a note of fragility to make her more appealing than a super-confident go-getter in the music industry might have been. Before you ask, that was not Demi doing her own singing.
They got professional singer Chrissy Faith to do that, and Moore mimed to her trilling, which at times became almost comically over the top: witness Laura’s rendition of My Funny Valentine in an emotional scene to see her straining to emote to the oversinging of that sensitive ballad on the soundtrack. In the main, though, director Jerry Schatzberg was keen to keep it lower key and, presumably he was hoping, more believable as an awkward romance, yet that did tend to work against the humour as No Small Affair was intended to be a comedy as well as a love story. For a start, any boy who turned down eighties Jennifer Tilly must have been labouring under some serious self-esteem problems, which wasn’t exactly hilarious. It all works out fine in the end, but it’s a rocky road to reach there, which sees Cummings try to win over Laura by boosting her career, which he does in as clumsy a manner as the rest of his behaviour around her.
Somehow she finds this intermittently endearing, though when he plasters her home phone number across the city’s taxi cabs along with that first photo he took of her, you do wonder if he’d taken leave of his senses, and it’s pure plot contrivance that has them reunited by the end when she recognises the action as the motives of the lovelorn rather than the results of loveblind insanity. If this was hard to believe as anything other than the high concept of the day, then at least there was a decent cast to back up Cryer and Moore, with George Wendt as the bar owner (with wandering hands), Peter Frechette as the cheery brother, E.G. Daily before cartoons took up much of her time as his girlfriend, Jeffrey Tambor as the new boyfriend to the brothers’ mother (Ann Wedgeworth) and was that a young Tim Robbins? It surely was. Plus that staple of eighties comedies, the “hilarious” prostitute. Even if you didn’t mind the implications of the age difference, it was OK at best. Music by Rupert Holmes (where’s that Pina Colada Song movie?).