Discovering the films of John Sayles on DVD has been a rewarding experience. The prolific writer-director has averaged a feature about every 1.5 years since 1980, when his highly regarded Return of the Secaucus Seven
surprised everyone. Sayles' films play as more heartfelt and 'real' than similarly themed movies made around the same time. Secaucus is less glitzy than The Big Chill
and The Howling
has a lot more going for it than An American Werewolf in London
. And nobody has made films as passionate about their subjects as Lianna, Matewan (where's that DVD?), Lone Star
and Casa de los babys
Sayles' third feature Baby It's You becomes a real winner once one gets beyond the unimaginative title. It's sort of an anti-American Graffiti, the story of one teenager's passage from high school to college in the odd years of the late 1960s. Sayles wrote it from a story by his producer, Amy Robinson (After Hours, From Hell). The inspired casting offers the first film starring roles for Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano, and they make an intriguing couple.
Rosanna Arquette's Jill is a nice, ambitious girl with good social skills and a sharp mind. She knows what she wants, and even her parents give her a wide berth. She nabs the lead in the school play around the same time she attracts the attention of the baddest boy on campus, Sheik. The guy is fashion-themed at all times and has an attitude a mile thick; he wanders the halls and thinks nothing of breaking into classes to talk to Jill. And they aren't even boyfriend and girlfriend yet.
Sayles' script is edgy and unpredictable: crime isn't punished directly and high hopes are sometimes flattened by reality, just as in real life. Sheik appears to hang out with local wiseguys and acts like a hood, but he and his scuzzy friend 'Rat' (Gary McCleery) are rank amateurs at crime. Emotionally erratic to the point of being frightening, Sheik attempts to scare Jill into being his girlfriend, just the kind of immature stunt one might expect. He ends up winning her with the intensity of his attentions, and his flair for romance […]
College turns out to be a complete reversal, when Jill realizes that she's no longer a special case, or the smartest girl in school. Her acting dream goes poof and she makes social mistakes, like getting roaring drunk (and then sick) with a group of her friends, leading her date (Matthew Modine) to assume that she's easy. Other women in her dorm prove to be cynics or snobs and one girl goes quietly insane, and nobody seems to care. Jill is disillusioned. She's in danger of losing some of the spark of youth, even though she's barely begun to live.
Like Nicolas Cage in Peggy Sue Got Married, Sheik has unrealistic dreams of a show business career based on image rather than talent. He talks a good line but takes it hard when his hopes vanish. Still a punk, Sheik steals a car and hightails it from Florida to Jill's northern college, just in time to rescue her self-esteem. Sheik is broke, but he's got his tuxedo and can serve as a last-chance prom date. What they missed in high school, they might be able to straighten out in their lives to come.
Sayles has a great cameraman (Michael Ballhaus) helping him to float this very well produced movie -- the locations, actors and direction are exceptional. Sayles also has a good sense for using music. […] Vincent Spano is certainly good but it's Rosanna Arquette's movie. She's heartbreakingly on target as the smart girl who discovers that she's made a commitment to the oddest guy she ever met.
The interpersonal details are what makes Baby It's You work so well. […] Despite the 'R' rating, it's a real movie, not a 'coming of age' sex romp. I'm very glad I caught up with it. --Glenn Erickson of DVDSavant.com
Sexy Rosanna Arquette sparkles, and Vincent Spano is brilliant in John Sayles' fresh and funny comedy about a pair of opposites who definitely
attract! Set in the tumultuous '60s, and featuring a classic rock and roll soundtrack, Baby It's You
crafts a vivid portrait of young love in a complex era. Also featuring a star turn by Robert Downey, Jr.