This film should have come with an expiration date. It is a romantic comedy premised on the notion that an American college kid would be infatuated enough with the images of a British Royal, that he would drop his life and transfer to Oxford University. This is a film dependent on the tabloid coverage of a distant royal, that a kid in the U.S. has to eat up through women’s magazines in the early 80s. Princess Caroline, your life is calling.
I like Rob Lowe and he has grown to be an effective actor, but this was a performance from his callow youth and it is not something to be very proud of. The fault is not entirely his, he has been given an unlikable character to play. The point of the story of course is that the character is supposed to grow, unfortunately he grows more annoying.
Nick is a desert dwelling rowing phenom. He attends the University of Nevada, even though his jacket has the letter “A” on it (maybe it is his high school Letterman’s jacket). His father compliments him on his rowing but criticizes the lack of additional effort. Nick retorts with a question,”Why do more than you need?” And so we immediately know the character that we are going to be asked to sympathize with for the remaining ninety five minutes of the movie. This is the only interaction we see between them. Later in the movie Nick speaks as if his father were a harridan, who rode his case all of his life. There is just not much motivation for us to sympathize.
His plan to go the England and enroll in Oxford, so that he can meet Lady Victoria, would be described in modern terms as stalking. When he finally does show up at the University, it is scary how easy it is for him to gain access to her whole class schedule. Oxford University cooperated with the making of the movie, but this would not instill much confidence in me if I were contemplating sending my child to this college. What is even more frightening is that he makes this plan clear to almost everyone he encounters. Somewhere a warning bell should have been chiming. Instead, most of the staff dismiss him and his interest in her and most of his classmates seem willing to help him.
To get to England though, he needs money, and as a lowly valet at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas he is impoverished. A needy older woman, having recently gone through a painful divorce, is so desperate for her self esteem to be pumped up, she hits on him. When they are getting dressed in the morning, she comes up with a scheme to pay him off by partnering with him at the tables. You see, since they win the money as partners, he’s not really a manwhore after all. He must have been really good in the sack because she also tips him with the car she drove in with. If you have been charmed so far, than this movie is for you. The idea behind the movie is not really a bad one. The problem is that by making Nick out as a hustler from the very beginning, there is little rooting interest. It also means that the tone is going to swing wildly from time to time. This is the kind of movie that would work in the more genteel forties or fifties. Instead of a man slut, the star would be an infatuated bumpkin from a small town, but he would be smart and with a good heart. He might be a little selfish but not the dick that this smart guy is supposed to be.
The reason for the rowing angle seems to be that this is a sport that is revered in jolly old England, and we Americans don’t quite get that it is a team effort. Years before the Winklevoss twins showed us that Americans can be class conscious rowing enthusiasts, Julian Sands and Julian Firth show us that the Brits can be condescending as hell to outsiders. Sands is the fiance of Lady Victoria, and he happens to captain a rival rowing team at the University. Rowing gives Nick access to the parts of the college society he would otherwise be kept out of. His team mates in the house he rows for are willing to over look his biggest flaw (he is American) because he can row well. They do however have a code that states “No Second Chances”. Would you be at all surprised to know that this will come back to haunt Nick? I suspect you will not be. Of course Nick does nothing to earn their respect except row. He dresses like he is an outsider, he does little to endear himself to anyone, and it is only his room mate that is on good terms with him. His professors, don, and others in authority, ignore most of his mistakes. It is only when he takes a legitimate action against a classmate trying to take advantage of the American girl (Alley Sheedy) who is the coxswain for their team, that he gets called on the carpet. Of course he has been rude to her several times, but mostly in the indifferent American way that is charming to women, at least those women in movies.
Lowe is asked over the time line of the plot to grow as a human being. He is not capable of doing so. The shallow performance reflects a lack of maturity combined with a poorly written role. His approach to Lady Victoria, is blatant and crude. Somehow he still manages to worm his way into her life. He is an ineffectual spokesperson for the American side in a parliamentary debate on the campus for the very reasons that the discussion is about. It is one chance for his character to earn some respect from the audience before we get to the third act, and it won’t succeed. Instead of upholding the principles that might accurately describe his country and the position he finds himself in, he interprets the event as a personal conflict between himself and the stuck up fiance. I wanted to shout advice to him before I throttled him for presenting us in the ugly stereotype that gets passed around in the upper echelon of European society. The fiance actually has valid pretensions of class and he turns out not to be the villain. Other classmates do not have the same validity although they have the same pretensions.They are the same types of bullying elitists you might find in any college based story. Here it is not about the jocks versus the nerds, but the elite against everyone else. Just as a side note, the toady for the real priggish villain in the plot was played by a very young Carey Elwes, three years before becoming a farmboy who evolves into the Dread Pirate Roberts.
The lady of the story is played by Amanda Pays, and she is lovely but I’m not sure that there is enough to draw someone thousands of miles away. She ends up being a lot more friendly to Nick than he has any right to expect. She also uses him in ways that might seem to be a bit cold hearted. The resolution of their romance is not very clear and it seems abrupt. After all they go through, it is the stiff upper lip Julian Sands who turns out to be the most admirable male in the story. The part where Nick lets down his side is appropriately diminishing of his stature, but it sets the stage for the selfless act that will determine Nick’s true character.
Naturally, the resolution involves a rowing competition. The British are looking for a chance to redeem a loss to Harvard, twenty five years earlier. The outsider has to shed his skin and join with the former rival to gain acceptance by all those he has let down. There is really no suspense and the race is about as interesting as a couple of guys rowing can be.
Rob Lowe was a pretty boy who was a part of the brat pack of the 1980s. He managed to turn his fantasy in this movie into a real life short term relationship with Princess Caroline, and then get even more famous for making a sex tape that was one of the first celebrity sex video scandals. He managed to shed that notoriety he earned with solid work in other films and television. Earlier this year he was the lead, along with Jodie Foster, in “The Hotel New Hampshire“. He does not embarrass himself in either film, but it would not be a year that would launch him into the super-stardom that many had predicted.
I’m pretty sure I saw this film late in it’s run. It was not a film I would have chosen to see, but all couples make concessions on little things and this must have been one of mine.