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  • Daniel Rae

Risky Business Review


"Risky Business", The Geffen Film Company, 1983


A surprisingly smart satire on the coming-of-age/comedy genre that, rather than throwing blind jabs at the melodrama that defines character archetypes and the larger-than-life tone that this genre often falls back on to force sympathy, finds subtle power in the humanity that is drawn from the flamboyant-yet-grounded way in which more mature themes like class and sexuality calve the story.

Although losing its consistency towards the third act, the screenplay does a brilliant job at straddling the fine line between embracing (and building) from the 'shallow' gimmicks that comes from the newfound freedom of Cruise's Joel and highlighting the warm nostalgic awkwardness of growing up and having everything - and nothing - to lose. The premise of sex and the want for control and profit out of it provides this mix with a likeable campy blend of humour that never turns crude and drama that never feels too serious. This is enhanced by the diegesis trimming any fat that may draw attention away from the reflective portrait of youthful naivety that Brickman was wanting to paint, with the narrative structure only threading together the relationship between Joel and De Mornay's Lana and the weight of school life. The stripped-back nature of the treatment, whilst not excersing much stylistic variation beyond the flamboyant change of tone that sex provides, still manages to calve a unique personality that encourages audiences to reflect on the idea of a blonded life, bringing to life the delicate power of the performances, the dry wit of the writing and the kaleidoscopic nature of the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. The creative decision to simply show rather than explore here through narrowing the attention to detail is a fittingly shrewd one, imitating the short-sighted lens of the material world that presents the loss of innocence in a refreshingly nonchalant way. The attention towards this fly-on-the-wall aesthetic is also admirably cumbersome through the purposefully flat cinematography which never breaches boring and/or takes away from the precious snapshot feeling of the narrative. The cast does a fitting job at manifesting their inspired foil-to-the-protagonist sensibilities whilst still being given the room to cut through with sobering reality checks. Whilst the binary cause-and-effect dynamic of character interactions propel the progression in a contrived way, the inward-thinking nature of the conflicts manages to retain a low-key suaveness that understands the down-to-earth randomness that underpins the sequences together.

Although I do feel that the story sacrifices the fun and clever balance between absurdist satire and grounded humanity in the final act in a way that detaches itself from its humble personality, I do appreciate how it enabled the screenplay to throw out the groundworks of a Todorovian style structure in order to highlight in a tongue and cheek way the haunting realities of adulthood and the corporate world that fuels it - as seen with the resolution of the glass egg macguffin.

Overall, however, I did find the understated charisma paired alongside the immaturity of its humour enticing from start to finish, making Risky Business one of the most finely-tuned and well-rounded (albeit one that does not shy away from sacrificing emotional intricacies for charming wit) satires I've watched.


4/5 Stars


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