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Why You Should Revisit One Crazy Summer Every Summer

By  · Published on August 13th, 2016

Junkfood Cinema explores essential summer cinema.

If you’re a fan of John Cusack, this admiration is likely fueled by his work in 1980s comedies. Not to be too presumptuous, but it is quite the rare occasion to find fans of this actor who credit Con Air as their entry point with the talent of Mr. Cusack.

During Cusack’s golden era, audiences found themselves rallying around him as he traveled great distances to get laid, raced station wagons, raised boom boxes triumphantly and was always, like so many of us, looking for love. Cusack is the epitome of the lovable loser; that underdog who channels many of our frustrations with the apparent rigged system of life.

Never was this underdog status more on display than when he played Hoops McCann in 1986’s One Crazy Summer. If Say Anything is a sad testament to having the odds stacked against you, One Crazy Summer is a Greek tragedy. Hoops is so named because his father was a pro basketball player, yet Hoops himself is a dreadful athlete. It’s as if this poor protagonist were literally cursed from the womb to a life of unrealized potential.

This irony is one of the many signposts along the self-aware highway paved by director “Savage” Steve Holland. Sadly, One Crazy Summer is a film long overshadowed by its older brother: Better Off Dead, also directed by Holland. While Better Off Dead may be the stronger film, what Savage Steve manages to do with One Crazy Summer is demonstrate a cognizance of the genre in which he was working and crank trope to a level of satire.

One Crazy Summer is a great 80s teen comedy that delights in lampooning 80s teen comedies. The bullies, the wacky best friends, the girl next door overlooked by the hero who is blinded by the superficial bombshell, and of course a good, old-fashioned save-the-rec-center motivation are all on screen and each element is exquisitely absurd.

It’s no accident that Cusack’s character is an animator, as One Crazy Summer is a bizarre living cartoon. However, what keeps the experience from feeling like a chore is the fact that Holland goes to great lengths to make every nutty event and insane character feel authentic to the world he creates. This is not Nantucket, Massachussetts, American, Planet Earth. Instead, the setting is grounded on the terra firma of some parallel dimension that its own denizens do not see as extraordinary.

Some of those denizens however do closely resemble young actors at the starting gate of their careers (Demi Moore, Jeremy Piven) and others bear resemblance to the celebrated supporting comedians that helped shape the 80s (Taylor Negron, Joe Flaherty, Rich Hall). Savage Steve Holland in his collaborations with John Cusack did his own part to shape the comedies of the era, but while Better Off Dead is celebrated as a classic, its spiritual sibling has seemingly been washed from the beach.

Do not let this season pass you by without revisiting this hilarious oddity. It’s the film that gave our podcast series its name. Listen to us gush about One Crazy Summer by listening to the latest episode of Junkfood Cinema!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episode covering an additional movie from the summer of 1986! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.