Can’t Buy Me Love

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Ronald Miller (Dempsey) is a typical high school nerd living in Arizona. He has spent all summer mowing lawns to save up for a telescope. However, at an opportune moment he makes a deal with popular cheerleader Cynthia “Cindy” Mancini (Peterson) to “rent” her for $1,000. Cindy borrowed a suede jacket that belonged to her mother and needs to replace it after Quint (Cort McGown) spilled red wine on Cindy at a party. Having few options except telling her mom the truth, she reluctantly agrees to help him look “cool” by pretending to be his girlfriend for a month even though she already has a boyfriend named Bobby who is away at college. Both agree never to reveal their financial arrangement.

Ronald then trades his nerdy-but-loyal friends for the shallow popular students and undergoes a complete clothing and hair makeover at Cindy’s direction. Over the course of the month, they discover each other’s individuality and are drawn together. Cindy soon starts to genuinely like Ronald. She opens up to him as he washes her car at her house, she goes inside to get a poem that she’d written that meant the world to her and lets him read it. She gets to know him better as he reveals his interests in astronomy and space travel. They gaze at the moon and he tells her how when they are their parents age “people will be working there and living there… maybe even us.” On the last date which Ronald has ‘paid’ for Cindy then hints that she’d like to kiss Ronald, signifying that she has real feelings for him, but he misunderstands and assumes she wants to talk about their breakup. They dramatically “break up” in front of a crowd at school but Ronald takes things too far and says some hurtful things about Cindy in front of their friends. She becomes cool and distant but warns him that popularity is hard work and he needs to make sure he “stays [him]self”. The next day, Cindy appears disgusted with Ronald when she sees him behaving arrogantly at school and becomes jealous when she sees him flirting with her best friends Barbara and Patty, who he later takes out on dates.

Ronald continues playing “cool” by hanging out with the jocks and hot chicks. He takes Patty to a dance at school, where he performs a dance he learned from the African Culture channel on television—he mistakenly believed to be watching American Bandstand. At first the other kids are mystified but they soon join in and Ronald’s new ‘trendy’ dancing makes him the most popular guy in school. On Halloween night, he and some other boys drive to the house of Kenneth (Courtney Gains), one of Ronald’s friends and the jocks test his loyalty by coercing him to hurl dog feces at Kenneth’s house. Kenneth is lying in wait and catches Ronald but lets him go before his dad can call the police and ignores Ronald the next day at school.

At a New Year’s Eve party Ronald gets drunk, goes into the bathroom with a girl and has sex with her. Cindy walks by and hears Ronald reciting to this girl the very poem that she (Cindy) had written. She’s completely devastated, so she starts drinking heavily. Later, as a surprise Bobby (Cindy’s boyfriend) shows up at the party from the University of Iowa as he still has strong ties with most of the athletes. After he learns about her relationship with Ronald through a few of the athletes, Cindy is brutally dumped in front of her friends. In anger and frustration, she tells the party-goers the truth about her relationship with Ronald and his “cool” pretenses. She scolds her friends for falling for his act and for being “a bunch of followers.”

“Our little plan worked, didn’t it Ronald?” Cindy says as she squashes his popularity—and places Ronald at the bottom rung of the high school social order. The ‘jocks’ once again tease him and throw food at him— but the nerdy crowd has abandoned him as well. He is distressed at being socially ostracized and his attempts to reconcile with both Cindy and Kenneth are rebuffed.

However, a moment comes to redeem himself when he defends his best friend Kenneth against the onslaught of Quint. Ronald points out that they were all friends at one time. When they were nine, Quint had fallen out of their tree house and broken his arm, they carried him twelve blocks to the hospital as he cried all the way. He tells them that the cool/nerd dynamic is “all bullshit, it’s tough enough just being yourself.” and walks away. Quint and Kenneth shake hands and the whole school applaud.

Cindy recognizes Ronald’s worth after that and the two reconcile when she decides to hop on the back of his riding lawn mower instead of hanging out with her popular friends. He asks her to prom and the two kiss as the title song plays. Closing credits roll while the two of them ride off into the sunset on the lawn mower.


So, raise your hand if when you saw the title Can’t Buy Me Love, you started singing the Beatles’ song. Don’t be ashamed, I know I did, much to the chagrin of my neighbors. Ladies, I know a good chunk of you watch Grey’s Anatomy and are head over heels in love with Patrick Dempsey, “McDreamy”, is it? Well, here is your chance to see him in one of his younger roles. Aside from that, what is that has people so enamored with this film, I wonder?

What is this about?

Ronald Miller is tired of being a nerd, and makes a deal with one of the most popular girls in school to help him break into the “cool” clic. He offers her a thousand dollars to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month. It succeeds, but he soon learns that the price of popularity may be higher than he expected.

What did I like?

Good Samaritan. There’s an old saying that goes, “nice guys finish last.” Watching the early parts of this film, you’d think that wasn’t just a saying, but a law equal to Newton’s laws of physics or the law of gravity. However, everything turns around for our star when he does a good deed for the girl of his dreams. I’m actually a little jealous.  I had plenty of crushes in high school and did good deeds for them all the time (still doing so for a few), but did I ever get the chance to date them? Nope! Oh well, c’est la vie. Movie magic is alive and well with this one, folks.

Win them over. Back in the day, there used to be talk shows on during the day, some classy and others…not so much. A frequent topic of the latter was how in the years since high school, someone can change from geek to chic. One of my good friends from high school and college actually managed to do this, so it does happen. However, that’s over the span of years, not the course of a few days. It takes some real talent to win over the jocks and cheerleaders the way Dempsey does, especially coming from the nerd “class.”

There was a time… Growing up as a military brat, I didn’t grow up with the same group of friends, so I cannot relate. However, many of my friends did have that experience and share their tales of how people they knew at one time changed as the years went by and they became interested in different things. It is just a natural part of growing up. I am glad that this film touched on the topic, if ever so briefly, though. Chances are any bullies, mean girls, etc., that torture today’s juveniles actually were their friend not that long ago.

What didn’t I like?

Superjock returns. We have a senior uber hottie who won’t give any of the boys at the school the time of day. Surely, there has to be a man somewhere for her, right? Of course, it is the star jock that graduated last year and went on to the big school (Iowa in this case), leaving her longing for him to return, especially since he doesn’t make it back for the holidays. When he does come back, it sets up perfectly for a showdown with our made over nerd antagonist. However, that confrontation never happens, as all it results in is the inevitable break up between jock and hottie. As an audience member, you sort of feel short-changed, but at the same time, you don’t. Superjock was never developed as a character, just mentioned here and there and a brief TV interview in the opening scenes.

Prostitution. This is one of those films that could not be made today. Not only because of the different attitude of society, but because, unless I’m mistaken, paying for someone to be your girlfriend for a month, is basically prostitution, which is illegal (in most states). Had this been blackmail, that would have been a more believable offense, for lack of a better term. Spending $1000 on a girl who won’t give you the time of day, though. That just seems a bit much, especially since it cost him the telescope he had saved up all summer for.

Break up. After the month long indentured servitude ends, there is a break up that occurs. Of course, since the relationship is fake, so is the break up. So, what is my problem with that little scenario? Nothing with the scene, but rather the fact that we get the sense that something more was meant to happen. It was as if Dempsey’s character was doing it just for fun, but Amanda Peterson’s character was a bit more invested. Perhaps it was some of the low blows he threw at her, I couldn’t tell you. I just know that I wasn’t satisfied with how it all played out.

As far as cheesy teen romantic comedies from the 80s go, Can’t Buy Me Love is actually pretty decent. However, with that being said, in comparison with other films in the same vein, it falls flat. I felt that it was making an attempt to be more serious than it had any business being, but at the same time, as one review said, “…all it truly wants is to be popular, just like the other kids’ movies, so it sells off its originality.” Still, this somehow manages to keep it charm, even after all these years. Perhaps it is all the love for Patrick Dempsey? Maybe the fact that a very young Seth Green appears? Who knows, really? Do I recommend this? I have to say only if you’re a fan of 80s romantic comedies. Otherwise this is just going to trudge along, as it did for me. There are better rom-coms out there to be viewed.

3 out of 5 stars


One Response to “Can’t Buy Me Love”

  1. I absolutely loved this movie growing up. Haven’t seen it in years though! nice review

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