Sunday 31 March 2019

Movie Review: For Keeps? (1988)

A reality-bites romance and drama with tinges of humour, For Keeps? (the title is known with and without the question mark) tackles weighty issues but suffers an identity crisis.

In the small town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, aspiring writer Darcy Elliott (Molly Ringwald) and budding architect Stan Bobrucz (Randall Batinkoff) are high school sweethearts wondering how to maintain their relationship now that Stan is planning to attend CalTech. Their lives are thrown into disarray when Darcy learns she is pregnant. Her mother Donna (Miriam Flynn) is obsessed with French culture and insists on an abortion, while Stan's loud father (Kenneth Mars), a shoe store owner, argues for an adoption.

Instead, Darcy and Stan decide to keep the baby and break off relations with their families. They get married, rent a derelict apartment, and start their life together. Soon they face severe money pressures and once the baby arrives Darcy suffers through postpartum depression, adding stress to the lives of the young couple.

Moviedom's favourite high school student Molly Ringwald tackles the transition from student to adult, and For Keeps? does not spare many grown up agonies. Before completing school Darcy has to deal with an impending separation from her boyfriend, an unexpected pregnancy, a less than useless mother, parental estrangement, night school, poverty, post-delivery depression, and a young husband suddenly adrift in life.

The film deserves credit for not sugarcoating serious issues. This is more drama than comedy or romance, and the stresses facing the young couple are portrayed as real and painful, with every compromise, sacrifice and trade-off spiraling into further grim consequences.

Amidst the doom and gloom of mounting responsibilities, director John G. Avildsen working from a script by Denise DeClue and Tim Kazurinsky still wedges in moments of humour, tender romance and growing-up wonder. The resultant movie is not so much dissonant as distant. As Darcy and Stan experience ups and downs, the emotional fluctuations are less than convincing, and appear theatrically scripted rather than natural.

Ringwald is by far the stand-out performer, radiating warmth and genuineness whether in giddy excitement as to what life has to offer or in the depths of depression. The unfortunate Randall Batinkoff is miscast and horribly outmatched as Stan, his arc defeated by bland scripting and superficial delivery. Miriam Flynn is monotonal as Darcy's mom and Kenneth Mars gets too much screen time as Stan's obnoxious father.

For Keeps? stands up to reality, but wobbles a bit from the variety of punches.

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