The Sure Thing (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Gib (John Cusack) goes to school in a New England college while his best friend, Jason (Boyd Gaines), attends UCLA. Jason writes letters to Gib in an attempt to lure him to visit during Christmas break. He claims that there is a beautiful exchange student (Nicollette Sheridan) willing to meet Gib and that she is a “sure thing” if he so chooses to go there. But Gib does not have enough money for a plane ticket. So, he decides to hitch a ride and once he gets inside the car, he sees that a classmate from English class, Alison (Daphne Zuniga), is already sitting in the backseat. Both have the same destination. The problem is, they cannot stand to be in each other’s company.
Predictable is a word that many might summon to critique the film, but one can argue that “The Sure Thing,” directed by Rob Reiner, is meant to follow a familiar structure. By sticking to an arc that works, it puts in an extra effort to elevate other elements. What allows it stand above the rest are the performances, witty exchanges between the lead characters, and a lead character with something else on his mind other than procuring sex.
Without Cusack’s playful charm and understanding of how certain lines ought to be delivered, Gib might have ended up as a creep given his need to bed a woman. During conversations that touch upon insecurities of being young followed by short silent moments, Cusack allows his character to communicate wit and a bona fide sense of humor. Underneath it all, we recognize that Gib knows he has a lot of growing up to do but at the same time it does not mean that he will sacrifice youth for the sake of coming off more mature than he really is. In that way, there is an honesty and goodness to him that most of us can get behind.
The throwaway characters enter the frame, deliver the punchline, and are never seen again. This is a smart move given that they are almost always one dimensional. Take Gib’s roommate, for instance. Although the guy is often seen under the sheets, he is given a chance to shine when he is actually clothed. The pick-up line he shares with Gib is nothing short of uncomfortable and hilarious. The same can be applied to the couple (Tim Robbins, Lisa Jane Persky) who kindly give Alison and Gib a ride. Their penchant for singing show tunes during the road trip can leave one’s ear ringing for days.
The interactions between the college hitchhikers is the centerpiece. Unlike many films of its type, opposite personalities learning to recognize the good in each other and perhaps sharing something deeper later on, their arguments do not lean toward annoying. Instead, their exchanges are cute, awkward at times, and quite sincere. Alison’s willingness to stick by the rules and always thinking ahead is nicely balanced with Gib’s disregard for the rules and proclivity for living in the moment. We expect each of them to strike some sort of balance after being around each other for a couple of days. It does not unfold this way.
Written by Steven L. Bloom and Jonathan Roberts, “The Sure Thing” is entertaining, intelligent, and aware of the wrong notes that others of its type cannot help but hit. It has some scenes, like the ones that take place in Los Angeles, that should have been tightened a little bit and given more originality. However, as a whole, it manages to take potentially corny material into a lovely full-course meal.