It’s a well-established fact by now that some pictures land on the Required Viewing list for their artistic merit, others for nostalgia, and still others for their cult favorite status. And the greatest fun comes in when Annemarie thinks she’s getting one thing but walks into another. Enter The Outsiders. Annemarie, tell the people all about this saga of soc versus greaser — what it’s about, what category it falls into, why I picked it and what you think of it.
A: I thought this was a classic film about the 1950s. It’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it boasts at least 6 actors who became megastars, and it has a great logline about the haves and the have-nots in a small Oklahoma town.
I was wrong. This film is objectively not good. It’s hard to reconcile with all of those aforementioned factors, but the fact remains: not good. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, but that enjoyment had way more to do with our group’s company and the fact that we had pizza.
For those new to this, as I was, The Outsiders starts with a pivotal meeting at the drive-in (as all good ’50s movies must) between two greasers, Johnny and Ponyboy, and two soc girls, Cherry and Marcia. This leads to a brawl between the girls’ errant boyfriends, and one of the soc boys ends up dead. Our two greaser heroes (who are without a doubt the worst greasers in history) run away, and after they save the lives of about 40 kids who wandered into an abandoned church that caught on fire, the greasers and socs fight. Greasers win, but not without a cost: Johnny, who dies from his burns.
Brooke, what did I leave out? Also: why is this on your list? WHYYYYY?
B: AM, you forgot the other major bit of fallout — Dallas, who dies at the hands of the police because he doesn’t know how to process his grief over Johnny and goes on a crime spree. But I digress, you lamented that The Outsiders isn’t good, and implored to know why it’s on the list.
Let’s get into that. This movie was made in 1983, and it feels every bit that old. But I’m here to tell you, this wasn’t exactly an era for incredible filmmaking. The ’70s were all about breaking the rules and the ’80s settled back into conventions and safe norms. So, when Coppola made a story that humanized youths (just before John Hughes did the same thing in a much better way) it struck a massive cultural chord. By our standards, The Outsiders might not be good, but it is a classic. I’m not the only person who makes “stay gold” jokes with such glee, you know. And I grew up with The Outsiders, so I have memories of pure joy from watching this movie that give it such a soft spot in my heart, not unlike your insistence that Bedknobs and Broomsticks or The Gnome-Mobile are must-see entries.
PLUS, we haven’t talked about pre-super stardom superstars in awhile, and this movie is made of that. So let’s talk about the cast here.
A: Take your pick! While C. Thomas Howell isn’t exactly a household name (at least at my house), Ponyboy is probably the most fully realized character, and he’s pretty great to watch. But other than Mr. Howell, it’s more of a matter of who isn’t in this film: Tom Cruise. Patrick Swayze. Rob Lowe. Diane Lane. Matt Dillon. Not to mention mostly-70s famous Leif Garrett, mostly-80s famous Ralph Macchio, and mostly-90s famous Emilio Estevez. That’s an impressive roster especially considering this wasn’t a film full of cameos or a prestige ensemble piece (Crash comes to mind, but Brooke probably has better examples).
For one thing, Tom Cruise appears to have not grown into his face at this point in the ’80s, but it makes him look more authentically greaser. I loved that Emilio was sporting a Mickey Mouse shirt, and seemed happiest when parked in front of Mickey cartoons (the one they show is a TRUE CLASSIC) with a Budweiser and an almost-entire chocolate cake. I mean, who wouldn’t be?
Also: Diane Lane is adorable, even though I was mightily disappointed that her budding friendship (maybe even romance?) with Ponyboy isn’t really explored beyond the first encounter.
Can we talk about some of the direction choices in this film? Coming from no less than Coppola, I was surprised how many distracting things he inserted here. Please tell me how it’s brilliant and I’m wrong, but I didn’t need nearly as many intense zoom-fade-ins.
B: AM, you know Sofia is the only unimpeachable Coppola, at least in my book. But you’re right, Francis did give us The Godfather and Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, so we know he’s brilliant, but he’s made plenty of duds too, perhaps because he has a tendency to over-direct and get too fancy sometimes. I think that and the period’s obsession with fancy camera tricks are really the elements that date The Outsiders. I mean, the fades, the superimpositions, the forced perspectives, it’s all so dramatic and in 2018 it reads as very soap opera. I can’t defend it and I won’t try, because I don’t want to.
I also cannot defend the degree to which either Dillion or Coppola decided to push Dallas. Dallas Winston is toxic and ridiculous, the kind of guy who is always getting arrested or in fights simply because he can’t help but raise hell. It’s an attitude Dillon wears well, but that no one bothers to check, whatsoever. Take his death scene. Even as a small child I was struck by the absolute absurdity of his expression as he crawls along, his eyes wide, his mouth open, his hands grasping. How about some subtlety fellas?
Tradition dictates that we declare which of this band of greasers is the dreamiest and also choose a side #TeamSoc or #TeamGreaser. Let’s hear your picks.
A: Even with Tom Cruise’s baby-awkward face, he’s still quite the looker, but I have to go with Patrick Swayze. He’s clearly struggling to keep his kid brothers in line after the parents have left (died?), but there’s a practical quality that’s very attractive. Also, he’s the only one of the three to have a “normal” name. How is it that parents that opt for “Ponyboy” and “Sodapop” could go simply with “Darrel” for their firstborn? Was it an experiment?
Because the dudes on #TeamSoc are almost all literally the worst, I have to be #TeamGreaser. Unless I can pick just the girls on #TeamSoc? I’d totally hang out with Cherry and Marcia, but even then, Cherry won’t acknowledge her new friend Ponyboy because it’s not acceptable for them to even know each other, never mind like each other. The other reason I’m #TeamGreaser is because they’re generally having a better time with life, even though they’re the less rich, less privileged set. Even if I couldn’t get them to stop fighting and stealing, it’d still be more of a shenanigans adventure than with the #TeamSoc guys.
Brooke, same questions back, and also, enlighten me on your theory of how “Darrel” happened.
B: AM, it’s mentioned roughly 100 times that the Curtis boys are orphans, how is this a question mark for you? The shame. But, I digress. We were talking of the dreamiest boy contest. While I do love some Patrick Swayze, it’s no contest. In The Outsiders, Sodapop Curtis is the one for me. Like many girls who watched this movie young, I remember Rob Lowe getting out of the shower as a real gamechanger. And naturally, with Soda and Darry and Two-bit and Steve and Pony and even Dallas Winston, I, like you (and Cherry Valance) see no course but to be #TeamGreaser. You correctly observed that the greasers are alive in a way the socs simply are not. They’re gold, you know?
Okay, AM. We now know that you can finally appreciate my Stay Gold jokes, and that’s the most important thing here, but do you have any other closing thoughts before we head off to the rumble?
A: Hahaha I probably glossed over the “orphan” part because of my astonishment about their names. Details, details. I’ll just have to presume that the parents, before their untimely deaths, actually got to name their second two children, while Darrel was perhaps a grandfather’s name they wished to honor. And that’s all I got! Stay gold, Brooke. Stay gold.
Next time on Required Viewing we revisit another cult favorite. Albeit one set in a place these greasers couldn’t reconcile: Late 80s Beverly Hills.