This Summer We’re Channelling: Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful”

Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

 
Of all the cool, rebellious, outcast teens from the other side of the tracks, Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful must be my favourite. Played by Mary Stuart Masterson to perfection, Watts is a street wise-rebel yell-new romantic tomboy that flaunts the subcultural musical theme of the 1980s, her appearance flawlessly punctuated by the thudding drum beats of the soundtrack.

When he made Some Kind of Wonderful in 1987, Howard Deutch had only done one other film (both were scripted by John Hughes), Pretty in Pink (1986), and a few music videos for Billy Idol and Billy Joel, and had worked on trailers for Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. But his naturalistic approach and his sensibility for young characters have never been more deeply felt, especially visually, than in this music-ridden teen movie centered on a non-conventional love triangle.

I can not talk about this film and about Mary Stuart Masterson’s character without talking about the music. It’s the music that takes us from the start through to the end of the story, many times on the drum beats of Watts herself – even when she doesn’t play, she carries her drum sticks around. John Hughes’ thirst for 1980s music is part of his cinematic teen universe. But no other soundtrack from his films compares to the one in Some Kind of Wonderful – he reportedly wrote the film to the music. It’s this very soundtrack that I had in mind when I read Billy Idol’s words in his book: “With our slightly more straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll direction, we picked up an audience that wasn’t exclusively punk. So we outraged some purists but drew in music lovers and started created the larger-than-life images that went beyond punk and into the ‘80s. […] We were focusing on our own obsessions, problems, and frustrations, but also adding in romance instead of just negativity.” Billy Idol was a rock star of the eighties, with a punk pedigree to boot, so how could his music not be related to this film? His song, Catch My Fall, is on the soundtrack.

 

Mary Stuart Masterson and Eric Stoltz in “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

 

We can find Watts somewhere in that “straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll” description from above and also in the look that mirrored that identity: “To create your own image, you had to invent your own fashion, something original to put on your back.” Fashion was as important as the music itself. Watts, with her bleached cropped hair, is defined by both her music and her clothes. You sense and you see her anguish of being an outsider, you also see that at her core she is an outsider, and it’s all portrayed in the clothes. Marilyn Vance, John Hughes’ frequent collaborator, was the costume designer. Vance has an incredible talent at shaping a character just by the way he/she is dressed, and she even did that through just one costume in The Breakfast Club, where five high school teens meet for detention on a Saturday and each character is flawlessly established – a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse – through costume alone in the first minutes of the film.
 

Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

 

The nonconformist clothes that Watts is wearing align with the individualistic trend in teenage fashion that Madonna opened the door to in the mid-1980s, a thrift-store street style associated with punk subcultures. The red fingerless fringed gloves that Watts is wearing all the time, the lace leggings, the bandana, the vests on top of faded-out t-shirts, the loose sleeveless tops, the trousers with braces, the ripped-off blue jeans, the chunky black loafers worn with white socks, the cropped black leather jacket…, they are all part of that pioneer look of the 1980s that channeled the teenage angst of working-class youth. The only way out was by being an original, and the way to look it was DIY style.

A key fashion moment for Watts is the driver costume, designed by Marilyn Vance. Watts wears it when Keith (Eric Stoltz), oblivious to her feelings for him, enlists her to chauffeur him when he takes Amanda (Lea Thompson) out on a date. Watts is wearing black lace leggings and her omnipresent red gloves, but she adds a slick black chauffeur jacket, a hat and some pointed flats to the mix. She takes off all her earrings and dangling jewellery and covers her tattoo on the neck with make-up. She’s not just focusing on her “obsessions, problems and frustrations, but also adding in romance”. It’s her way of showing her love.
 

Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

 
 

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