When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I didn’t have much interest in romcoms, even the ones with adorable teen heart throbs like C. Thomas Howell, who’s my same age. I was too occupied keeping up with all the fantasy/sci-fi and (to a lesser extent) action blockbusters. Now, nearly four decades later, I finally watched SECRET ADMIRER, which originally came out in 1985, the year after I graduated from high school. At the time, I filed this movie away into my “to someday see” list in the back of my mind. With my tastes in assorted art media having softened and expanded with age, I find myself pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this light, funny, and heartfelt film is. It has held up well with time because of a cohesive, easy to follow storyline with non-stop humor and an underlying innocence that is both refreshing and comfortingly escapist in such especially strained and trying times.
For me, SECRET ADMIRER evokes big-time nostalgia about living near Los Angeles in the 1980s where I wore clothes and hairstyles like the young guys in this movie, which takes place in LA. I found myself wondering if the high school at the beginning of the film was Santa Monica High, where my sister went in the early to mid 1990s. Neighborhoods and streets looked familiar. And C. Thomas Howell, the star of this often delightfully silly production, brought me right back to those moments I secretly lusted over him while doing my best to go about the business of school, work, and enduring an awkward, queer youth of loneliness, navigating a sprawling metropolis I hadn’t grown up in. Talk about a little time warp. Dee Wallace Stone (of E.T. and CUJO), who plays Howell’s character’s mother, is another 80s screen icon for me, pleasantly appealing. And then there’s a handful of other thespians in the cast, whose names continue to elude me as they did back then but whose faces are comfortably familiar like, well, several blocks of Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica or the Santa Monica Pier (which does not appear in the film, though some section/s of Wilshire might).
The plot is nothing particularly original: love triangle with many supporting characters, who offer lots of comedic moments. Boy (Howell) has a crush on a superficial blonde girl (Kelly Preston), whose good friend (Lori Laughlin) is also best friends with said boy. One of the two females leaves an unsigned love note in the locker of this boy and all sorts of misunderstandings and intrigue humorously ensue. Both the boy’s and blonde girl’s parents get drawn into the narrative as the love note makes its way around via being stashed in different belongings that travel to other places, where it is systematically read by supporting characters. A few other unsigned love notes get written, which keep the intrigue and various jealousies going. Finally and predictably, order and old balance between the players are restored and true love prevails.
At the end of a busy work week, I loved this feel-good fare– wholesome, pleasant comfort food for my eyes and brain. If you came of age in the 1980s and grew up in or near a large city (bonus points if it was LA or nearby), it’s possible you’ll especially enjoy this sweet, benign film, which was a walk down Memory Lane for me.