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Soundtrack Saturday: “The Sure Thing”

I have a pretty embarrassing confession to make: I just watched The Sure Thing (1985) for the first time, all the way through, this week. I know, I know. What kind of John Cusack-loving, child of the ’80s am I? I’m so ashamed.

So, what’s my excuse? I can tell you exactly what kept me from watching this movie all these years: the poster. That’s right — I am guilty of dismissing a film because of its marketing. Again, for shame.

To me, everything about the poster screamed silly, Porky’s-style dude movie  — the tan, blonde, scantily-clad Nicolette Sheridan lounging seductively on a beach at the top; the look in Cusack’s eyes as he stares up at her from below; the annoyed “of course you want the blonde chick” look on Daphne Zuniga’s face. Even the font of the title turned me off. Just based on the poster art, I really thought The Sure Thing was a low-brow, sexist comedy and dismissed it entirely. I never even payed attention to the fact that Rob Reiner directed it — and I like a lot of his work.

Now that I’ve watched this film, I am happy to admit how wrong I was about it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I watched it twice in one night. I found it to be smart, funny, sensitive and, other than some of Walter’s fantasies about The Sure Thing, not at all low-brow. Hell, it could probably be considered more of a traditional chick flick than a Porky’s-style movie. I’m kicking myself for ignoring it all these years, especially since I’m guilty of watching some pretty stupid shit from this era.

Based on an experience the film’s writer, Steven L. Bloom, had during his college years, The Sure Thing tells the tale of two New England college students — Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) and Allison Bradbury (Zuniga) — who take a cross-country trip together in order to spend winter break in California with their version of “the sure thing.” For Gib, it’s the hot blonde girl (Sheridan) that his best friend, Lance (Anthony Edwards) wants to set him up with. And for Allison, it’s her preppy, aspiring-lawyer boyfriend, Jason (Boyd Gaines). Over the course of their adventure together, the pair go from hating each other to, well, not hating each other.

For fun, I decided to look up other versions of the movie poster, as well as VHS and DVD cover art, to see if any of those might have been more appealing to me and possibly would’ve encouraged me to watch The Sure Thing years ago. Here’s what I found.

1. Here we have what looks to be a German DVD cover. This makes me think that the “Sure Thing” is that a pretty girl finds John Cusack dead in a swimming pool. Perhaps this could’ve been an early version of Weekend at Bernie’s.

2. This looks like an outtake from a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot. The film this cover art is marketing is probably softcore porn and the target audience is not someone like me. And putting copy at the top to tell me that it’s from the director of When Harry Met Sally does not help — it just confuses me. Why would the first film Rob Reiner directed after This Is Spinal Tap be a porn film? That just makes no damned sense. This artwork just makes me angry.

3. What in the flying fuck is going on here? I would totally watch this movie because it is clearly some kind of weird, artsy Swedish flick.

4. The John Cusack in this artwork doesn’t look like the John Cusack that appears in this film. He looks older, more pensive — like Lloyd Dobler. And I don’t remember any blonde chicks in bikinis dating Lloyd Dobler. Alternatively, he looks angry, like he might be thinking about killing the blonde chick, rather than having sex with her. I don’t know what to think about this movie — it doesn’t look very romantic, so I probably would’ve watched it. Also, can we just take a moment to discuss how that pose makes Sheridan look like she’s getting ready to give birth or take a dump? I’m just sayin’.

5. Finally, we have what I think is a variation of the VHS cover art. In this version, we have a badly Photoshopped, smirking Cusack as the center of attention, with the bikini-clad, blonde goddess draped on one side of him and a sneering, jealous Zuniga on the other. This artwork tells me that Cusack’s character is the most desired element in the story, and not the dream girl. And it also tells me that Zuniga might cut a bitch. I’d definitely watch that.

One thing I loved immediately about The Sure Thing is its soundtrack. The tracks featured are used perfectly, starting with the song that plays over the opening credits when we’re introduced to The Sure Thing — Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation.” I can’t think of a better song to kick this movie off. I also love every song played at Lance’s party toward the end of the film, particularly Peter Wolf’s “Light’s Out.” And I’m especially impressed that the version of  Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” used was not the single version, but the extended version – and you never actually hear any of the lyrics.  I immediately recognized this because I’m a giant nerd.

There was never an official soundtrack album, nor were any of the songs composed specifically for this movie. In fact, with the exception of J.D. Souther’s “The Fast One,” every song had already been released as a single from the artists’ previous albums by the time the film came out.

OK, that’s the end of my journey with The Sure Thing. If you take nothing else away from this post (well, besides the songs you’re probably already downloading), it should be this: don’t judge a film by its shitty poster art.

Rod Stewart – Infatuation
Huey Lewis & the News – The Heart of Rock & Roll
Sammy Hagar – Two Sides of Love
Quiet Riot – Party All Night
John Waite – Tears
J. Geils Band – Concealed Weapons
Eagles – Heartache Tonight
J.D. Souther – The Fast One
The Cars – You Might Think
Wang Chung – Dance Hall Days
Lionel Richie – Penny Lover
Peter Wolf – Lights Out
Ray Charles – Just Because