In the mid-80’s this was pretty much the height of teen cinema across all genres. John Hughes had success with Sixteen Candles and in 1985 would put out a little film called The Breakfast Club. That same year Secret Admirer would come out which would borrow a little from Cyrano de Bergerac and add in a healthy dose of the 80’s teen comedy and would almost strike gold. But what may be the film’s most noteworthy factoid is that in 2016 a writer and director by the name of Eduardo Ortiz releases a film that was a word-for-word and scene-by-scene ripoff in Puerto Rico and was found out days upon its release. One could only imagine he felt the film was such a hidden gem that no one would notice, but thankfully people did find out, and now with Kino putting out this Blu-ray, perhaps this will give new audiences a chance to check out this charming little film that is filled with familiar faces from the 80’s and absurd hijinks that were acceptable back then.
The film opens up with a mysterious figure slipping a letter into a high school locker that belongs to Michael Ryan (C. Thomas Howell). Michael is a bit dimwitted but still a likeable guy who is in love with the prom queen, Deborah Anne (Kelly Preston), and then there is his best friend Toni (Lori Laughlin), who obviously has a major crush on Michael, but he’s too naive to notice. When Michael does finally read this letter, he discovers it is from a secret admirer who claims to be in love with him but is too shy to say so. You don’t need to be a detective to figure out that it is Toni who has written this letter, but when Michael comes to Toni for advice, he’s convinced himself that it is Deborah who wrote the letter, so to help her clueless friend in need, she offers to help Michael and give Deborah a letter in response … only Toni rewrites the letter, and, well things get complicated when these love letters get into the wrong hands.
Where the film gets a bit too absurd for its own good is when the parents of the teenagers get involved and believe that the letters were written for them, and it leads to the possibility of them stepping out on their marriages to cheat. Connie (Dee Wallace) is charming as Michael’s mom, who believes her husband, George, played by Cliff De Young, is cheating. Then there is Lou (Fred Ward), who is Deborah Anne’s overprotective father who is a cop, who believes his wife, Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young) is cheating on him, all because he found one of the love letters. All of this is silly and over-the-top, but it’s because of the performances by everyone involved that we’re willing to give these absurdities a pass.
Though the film does have an R rating, even with a pair of brief nude scenes this felt a bit tame considering the sex-comedy feel it seemed to be going for. The few moments with Michael and his friends have a fun Animal House vibe to them, but we just don’t get enough of them. Then there is the friendship between Michael and Toni. It just isn’t explored enough. I understand there is only so much you can do with a running time, but it’s just never really shown that they have been best friends for years.
I think my biggest issue is with the character of Michael. C. Thomas Howell gives it his all to make this character charming, but the character still does things that are frustrating and just simply stupid, and you have to wonder what it is that Toni even sees in him. There’s a point where Toni does seem to finally get frustrated with him, and still Michael is so dense that he can’t see why she’s angry. At this point I was just hoping all the characters would just turn on him and smack him for being such an idiot. The biggest example would be how Toni is going away for a year of school out of the country, but her “best friend” doesn’t seem to remember this or ever talk about it and always seems surprised by it. The film doesn’t deliver any big twists, nor does it give Michael any real conflict, so when the predictable ending occurred, it just didn’t sit right for me.
At the end of the day the film still has its charm, and for those who love a good 80s film, this delivers in all the right ways. The cast and the chemistry with the characters is what make this film work better than it should. I’d pair this with Can’t Buy Me Love if you want a solid 80s double feature. Also, this film is a good lesson about writing love letters, how easily things can be taken out of context, and how simply signing your name can prevent plenty of headaches and possible heartaches down the road.