Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) is an Arizona teen unsatisfied with his lot since he wants to be one of the popular kids at school, and nothing about him is guiding him in that direction. He mostly mows the lawns of the parents of the popular kids, and that's all they think of him as, while his friends who he meets up with to play cards are nothing more than nerds who don't have much social standing either. Worst of all, there's no chance of romance, sure, he would like to have at least an excuse to talk to the head of the cheerleaders Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson) but that's never going to happen... until one day he realises he can put the money he was meant to buy a telescope with to good use.
Can't Buy Me Love was named after the Beatles tune from the nineteen-sixties, and indeed that's what plays over the opening titles and end credits which prompts one to think that's where the larger portion of the budget went. Though quite what the target audience thought about a song released before they were born heralding a supposedly up to the minute eighties teen flick went unrecorded, and as it turned out it wasn't the reason this was recalled. Just about every similar movie from this decade is fondly remembered by somebody, mostly because they were all out on VHS and if you had a copy of one or more in your household chances were you saw it a hundred times.
This habit of watching the same thing over and over again thanks to the production's easy availability truly began in the eighties, fair enough the phenomenon of regular television reruns had entertainment seekers getting used to seeing the same shows and movies before the rise of home video, but here you had more control. Now you could watch what you wanted and when you wanted to, which might render it a little strange so many chose to restrict themselves to the same choice near-incessantly, but the good vibes brought about by an item like Can't Buy Me Love were not to be sniffed at. This was why when the news came in 2015 that one of the stars had died at the relatively young age of 43 there was so much shock and dismay.
Amanda Peterson was only fifteen when she made this, but for the movie's fans she was the perfect American teen. Her Cindy character starts out seeming spoiled and hard to relate to, but thanks to the actress's charm we were soon able to warm to her when at a party she accidentally has wine spilled on the suede outfit she borrowed from her oblivious mother. Needing a replacement but unable to pay for it, Ronald steps in and shells out with his telescope money. But there's a catch: in return, she must pretend to go out with him for a few weeks when school starts up again, an arrangement she has no choice but to agree to. If this sounds like the sort of deal that is supposed to be quirky and fun but when you examine it is actually morally dubious, then all credit to the movie, that's the way it feels too.
Ronald get his popularity, Cindy warms to him and his nerd buddies (including best friend Courtney Gains who gets a memorable line later about his house) are left in the dust but it comes at a price. Dempsey was convincing as a geeky guy blowing his big chances through poor attempts to realise his dream as he grows overconfident, but Cindy was allowed some depth as well. At first we wonder why Ronald wanted the acclaim of the higher strata of high school society when none of them seem all that great to be around anyway, but Cindy is different as she is actually a sensitive girl underneath her bravado, and the tone turns dramatic in the second half as it goes horribly wrong for both of them. Nevertheless, though the happy ending was never in doubt, you needed some convincing that Ronald and Cindy were right for one another even without his dodgy contrivances to win her heart. Still, it left Amanda Peterson with a small shot at immortality, and sadness for the film's fans once the reports about her depressing latter years began to trickle through. Music by Robert Folk.