The Summer of '83 Risky Business -

The Summer of '83

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  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Curtis Armstrong and Bronson Pinchot
  • Written by: Paul Brickman
  • Directed by: Paul Brickman
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 98 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83 Risky Business

"Every now and then say, 'What the fuck.'"

By Rob Vaux     August 05, 2013

 I don't think anyone knew what was being unleashed when that bright young man slid into the living room in his briefs, lip syncing Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll."  Risky Business signaled the box office ascendance of one Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, better known by his street name: Tom Cruise. In these post-Oprah's-couch days, it's hard to remember just how large he loomed for as long as he did, but his nascent star turn in this, one of cinema's seminal coming-of-age stories, reminds us that he was born to do what he does.

Cruise's onscreen persona has always radiated confidence, but we're so accustomed to it by now that it's refreshing to see it during a time when he wasn't a household name. There's a twinge of desperation to it here: an eagerness to please that hides a terrifying fear of failure and rejection. It fits his character, Joel Goodsen, like a glove. A disaffected teenager from the posh Chicago suburbs, Joel lives a life dominated by his control-freak parents and focused on the sole goal of getting into an Ivy League school. Failure is not an option, and you can sense the lad's soul screaming beneath his calm, passive face. When his folks go out of town for the weekend, he has a chance to engage in a little low-key rebellion... which spins wildly out of control with the arrival of a streetwise call girl (Rebecca De Mornay) on his front doorstep.

The basics anticipate John Hughes' teen comedies of a few years later, though the film lacks their sense of optimism and innocence. This is a remarkably cynical movie, and I mean that in the best possible way. Joel's anesthetized detachment runs straight into the ugly reality his parents have worked so hard to keep from him, a realty where people don't care what your SAT score is and bad things happen even after you get accepted to Princeton. Writer/director Paul Brickman underlines a quiet despair beneath his satirical surface, a despair that can't be undone by the ostensibly happy ending. Success is measured in very narrow, materialistic terms in this world, with creature comforts arriving at the expense of real meaning. Victory comes only by accepting the system as it stands; rebellion is futile and the status quo delivers nothing but cold possessions in an empty house. Joel is wise enough to recognize how horrid that situation is, but lacks the cleverness to really break out of it. At best, his experiences put him ahead of the curve, giving him an edge over his peers that may allow him to survive. But the things his soul truly hungers for? They can't be found here and he silently seethes against that fundamental injustice.

That brings a bitter edge to an already stellar coming-of-age comedy. Its jabs at peer pressure and parental idiocy are well-worn, but carry a sting that few other movies can match. Similarly, its sexuality is undeniable, but comes from a place of maturity. It doesn't view copulation as the end all and the be all the way other teen comedies do, and quietly mocks the adolescent fools who claim otherwise. Sex here is meaningful and memorable: a respite from the darkness creeping in around it. It's also tinged with compromise, a commodity like any other, and while you can wrest a sense of fulfillment from its intimacy, you lose some of the awe that made it such a desirable state in the first place.

Such is the nature of growing up, a difficult path that Risky Business delivers with no false promises and no sugar-coated lies. Its bracing honesty found a true champion in the freshly minted star at its heart. Cruise went on to bigger, bolder and more varied projects, but only rarely did they contain such sad and funny insight as this one. You can see it in his go-for-broke insecurities here: reflecting the perfomer as much as the role, and which his subsequent success prevented him from ever duplicating. Thanks to him and his brilliant director, Risky Business felt like no teen movie that came before it; those that came after still owe it an immense debt.


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almostunbiased 8/5/2013 5:33:39 AM

So tired of the couch stuff.  He was an actor being silly on TV.  I have no clue why people make such a big deal about that of all things.

FilComMania 8/5/2013 7:43:24 AM

I agree.


There is only one thing I need to know about Tom Cruise; He's a bloody good actor. Nothing else matters.

Russell Brand said himself he was ready for a douchbag to come at him about Scientology, and even went so far to probe Tom about it, and Tom said, I'm not gonna preach man, you believe what you believe, and I will believe what I do.

So ya know media hype shit like no tomorrow, and the idiots lap it up.

monkeyfoot 8/5/2013 9:02:01 AM

Of the many young actors who hit big in the early 80s such as the famed Brat Pack, Cruise is the one who is still a star. And not just a star, a BIG star. Like 20 mil or more per picture star. I honestly don't know the why or how of it. You could think Andrew McCarthy, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, etc all do various levels of big stuff that ebbs up and down as the years go by. But Cruise has more or less...cruised higher and higher. He is good and I enjoy his stuff but I don't have the answer to why others who may have been just as talented haven't stayed near the top.

Must be Xemu :-) 

DarkXid 8/5/2013 9:53:15 AM

 I'm okay with Tom Cruise and the mega cult he is a part of as long as they leave me alone...which they will, because I'm poor.

I remember seeing the staircase scene as a kid and seeing them get down to "doing it" as we used to say and thinking that was some hot and awesome stuff.

I see the same thing these days and think, wow that's hot....but would be awfully painful and difficult to try without serious muscle spasms and bruising!

invisioner 8/5/2013 10:41:40 AM

You know why, Moneyfoot? Because Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Emilio, NONE of them could have rocked Les Wiseman in a ho-hum movie like Tropic Thunder and pulled off that kind of hysteria! Nod to Tom.

DarthoftheDead 8/5/2013 6:33:00 PM

This is one of those movie's that no matter how many times I watch it, its never fails to titillate (no pun intended, lol) and tantalize me......

"Time of your Life, huh, kid........"

VermithraxPejorative 8/9/2013 4:59:00 AM

I've been a Cruise fan since the night I saw this in the theaters back in 83. Tom is one of my favorite actors, and has been in some of my most favorite mvies. Minority Report being one of those. Love that movie! I am SO frakking tired of all the "crazy Tom" BS that still gets sputed about. So the man acts silly at times; who gives a rats ass! Tom is an excellent actor, and the roots of the excellence is seen in Risky Business and is proven throughout his career.

Invisioner, I couldn't agree more! Tom's performance in Tropic Thunder was brilliant!



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