Seventeen-year-old Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) has this recurring dream where he arrives at a neighbours' house and ventures inside when he doesn't get a reply to the doorbell. With still no answer to his calls, he hears something upstairs and goes up to the bathroom where the shower is running, then peeks around the door to see an attractive woman bathing there, nobody he recognises but he is intrigued. She invites him in to wash her back but as he approaches the steam grows thicker and thicker, leaving him to open the shower door and find himself in a classroom where his most important exam is held and there are only three minutes to go before the bell rings to end it...
Whatever could that mean? You're about to find out should you settle down to watch Risky Business, the movie Tom Cruise can thank his lucky stars for as it made him an enduring celebrity from the mid-eighties onwards, though admittedly part of that was down to his particular lifestyle choices which rendered him a source of endless fascination for fans and haters alike. Back in 1983, he was just another pretty face, yet writer and director Paul Brickman had a vision for his teen sex comedy and the Cruiser was just malleable enough to receive his expert image guidance for this effort. Brickman would later admit he dropped the ball with his own career, with only one more, minor directorial credit when this should have opened up vistas.
Therefore it was Cruise who benefited immensely, which is frustrating in a way for Risky Business was a very well-crafted movie and it would have been interesting to see what had happened if Brickman had capitalised on being flavour of the month when this was released. He didn't, yet while this has an obviously firm hand on proceedings and a Tangerine Dream soundtrack the epitome of ice cool, the script was rather more questionable, taking the sort of well-to-do community that even John Hughes, who was patently taking notes here for his Ferris Bueller's Day Off, would have balked at: Joel and his parents (Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll) are absolutely loaded, live in an exclusive area, dad has that famed Porsche in the garage, and they want their son to head off to Princeton to train as a businessman as wealthy as his father is.
That so many found a lot to like in Joel spoke to an aspirational element, that they were content to imagine what it would be like to lounge around in his privilege, though that said it does not come without pressure as he still has to secure that further education place, and his skills are only fair, meaning he has to work very hard. Only Brickman had another method Joel could implement, and it was difficult to see if he was celebrating or satirising the capitalist dream as chance has it that while our hero's parents are away for a couple of weeks, his best friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong making a strong impression, especially with one particular line) contrived to get a hooker to arrive at Joel's house as a joke. This lady of the night turns out to be a transvestite (Bruce A. Young), but he does give an abashed Joel the phone number of someone more appropriate.
She being Lana, played by Rebecca De Mornay in a manner suggesting this also should have lent her a career as big as her co-star, though intermittent spells in the limelight were all she mustered in spite of working steadily. Lana should really be the sort of dreamgirl who would be a cliché in these sorts of movies, the tart with the heart, except we're never wholly convinced either way that she is moving towards anyone's interests other than her own. She's very self-possessed, but while she accomodates Joel, she never lets us forget she is using her body as an asset and means to make her living from it, thus gets him into all sorts of trouble even as she fulfils his fantasies. It's actually a stronger performance than Cruise gave, he merely having to sum up that tension between the expectations of the parents as a respectable member of society, and a young man who tries to keep hidden from them the fact he has a very healthy sex drive, as that would be the ultimate shame. Risky Business was a curiously conservative, yet ambiguous take on American morality, not entirely likeable either.