A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Can't Buy Me Love is a 1987 teen comedy in which a young Patrick Dempsey plays a nerd who tries to buy his way into high school popularity. Strong language is thrown around in a casual way -- not only profanity like "f--k" and "s--t" but also name-calling like "tards" and "dorks" and sexual innuendo like "nailing." There are a lot of sexual references and some crude jokes and comments about sex. High-school girls are shown in their underwear. The premise of the movie involves a popular girl dating a nerdy boy for money, and there are some references to prostitution. There are a few scenes where high school age kids drink, with no consequences from authority figures. A main character, a good student, starts to ignore his studies and suffers no consequences. There are few speaking roles for minorities, and a heavy reliance on stereotypes for the plot development (a nerd/ cool kid rivalry). Overall, while the movie attempts to point out the absurdity of high school cliquedom, it's too rooted in the '80s to make that message clear to contemporary audiences. For instance, besides use of terms like "tards," there is a fat-shaming scene in which a large teen girl approaches the lead character and tells him, "You could have had me for $49.95," and a scene when Dempsey tries to sit in the cafeteria at the skate-punk table and they immediately flee, leaving the popular kids to laugh mockingly about how he can't even find acceptance with what they think to be the lowest clique in the entire school. This broader point about bullying and cliques is muddled by dated stereotyping attempting to be comedy.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
CAN'T BUY ME LOVE is a teen romantic comedy about Ronald (Patrick Dempsey), a high school senior who has been filling the role of hard-working student all his life. He has a group of close friends and a supportive family, but he longs to be accepted by the popular crowd, headed by his lovely next-door neighbor, Cindy (Amanda Peterson). When Cindy finds herself in dire need of $1000, Ronald offers her a deal: He will pay her the money if she pretends to date him for a month. She agrees and soon Ronald is the toast of the popular set. All the girls want to date him, all the boys want to be like him, and Cindy starts to warm up to him. From the outset, Ronald's popularity presents problems as well as privileges: He leaves his old friends behind, he starts to do badly in his classes, and as his personality changes, Cindy becomes disillusioned, and their budding friendship dissolves. It's only when his ploy is exposed that Ronald can start to think about the cost of playing any role, nerd or cool kid, and being anything other than what he really is.
Is it any good?
High schoolers will have little tolerance for the simplified version of their social lives, and parents might object to younger children watching due to language and issues of sexuality. There are a few charming moments, though, especially as Cindy and Ronald become friends. Overall, though, this film has not aged well. Humor that may have been considered funny decades ago (like fat-shaming) comes across as mean-spirited now. There are no consequences for bullying or underage drinking. Parents who may have fond memories of this movie might be surprised to remember it isn't as good as they remembered.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how people deal with loneliness, popularity, and the demands of both. How do people "sell" themselves? The value of being true to yourself is a main theme of the movie. What does being true to yourself require?
While ostensibly about the absurdity of cliques, this movie finds comedy in fat-shaming, in using terms that disparage the mentally challenged, in bullying, in sexist comments. How does this date the movie? How does this undercut the movie's theme?
How have teen comedies changed over the years? How have they remained the same?
- In theaters: July 19, 1987
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2001
- Cast: Amanda Peterson, Patrick Dempsey, Seth Green
- Director: Steve Rash
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language, mild sexuality, mild substance abuse
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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