There are three things I want to discuss about Risky Business (there isn’t room to cover the fourth, why Tom Cruise is so excellent in this film then mostly terrible for the next twelve years). The subjects are director’s cuts, teen movies and this film’s portrayal of women. All three are somewhat interconnected and maybe the director’s cut of the film is the best place to start.
Risky Business has no official director’s cut. One would have to make it for him or herself. It’s worth figuring out how to do. The original version of Risky Business, for those who don’t know, ends with Tom Cruise–an upper-middle class, three point one GPA white high school student–getting into Princeton because he’s running a brothel when the admissions interviewer shows up. It’s a slam dunk for American capitalism and, famously, not the ending director Paul Brickman originally went with. I think Leonard Maltin even mentions it in his capsule review….
I sat waiting for it, having heard about it for eleven plus years, knowing what was coming next… only for it never to arrive. Something else happens instead, something wonderful.
It’s hard to pick an adjective to describe the film’s portrayal of women–particularly Rebecca De Mornay’s late teens call girl (it’s always implied she’s only a little bit older than Cruise’s high school senior). The film objectifies her initially, then defames her as a con artist. Neither are really positive. The first makes sense for a movie about a teenager who ends up running a brothel with his classmates as customers. The second moves the story along. Where Risky Business is singular among the popular teen movies of the 1980s (it’s telling Business came just before the onslaught of John Hughes’s pictures, which demolished the genre in its infancy) is in the contradiction. That first sense, the objectification sense, it’s a sham. De Mornay’s character is slowly revealed to be a vulnerable, intelligent, frightened young woman. Cruise discovers these things at the same rate the viewer does and the film’s perspective changes as he does. Risky Business has lots of narration and Cruise has to sell it all. He succeeds.
The film takes responsibility for its characters and their complex relationships–both implied and on screen–with their peers and their parents. It’s never cheap, which is what sets it so far apart from the decade’s subsequent teen films. I’m not sure if I can think, past Risky Business and Rebel Without a Cause of a “teen” picture so maturely told. But the director’s cut is what puts Business in this too small class.
IMDb sort of spoils the director’s cut ending for anyone interested, but only slightly. It’s impossible to communicate the scene and the effect in words, if only because Brickman–for a first time director–not only knows how to compose a shot and how to direct actors, he also knows how to pick music. The Tangerine Dream score in Risky Business does much of the film’s stylistic heavy lifting. Brickman does a handful of a snazzy moves–some with editing, some with the narration, some with lighting and slowing down the film (nothing ostentatious, but certainly a little different from the rest of his approach)–and the score tempers it. The snazzy moves seem more natural because the score’s already come in and prepared the viewer. It’s a beautiful fit.
The acting–not just Cruise and De Mornay, who are both fantastic and have a great chemistry (even though her career’s had a far different trajectory than his, they really ought to do another film together)–is great. Brickman assembles an amazing supporting cast. Joe Pantaliano has one of the flashier roles as Guido the Killer Pimp, who enjoys honey in his tea (Brickman’s deft touches are another joy). Bronson Pinchot’s actually really good, as is Curtis Armstrong (but less surprise with him). Bruce A. Young and Nicholas Pryor are also great in small roles.
I first saw Risky Business about twelve years ago. It impressed the hell out of me. I’ve seen it in between then and now and the last time, it didn’t. I’m not sure how the theatrical version would sit with me today–it’s hard to believe I’d think much less of it, given that amazing sequence (both filmmaking and acting) when Cruise heads into the city to find De Mornay–but the director’s cut is sublime.
Written and directed by Paul Brickman; directors of photography, Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Richard Chew; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, William J. Cassidy; produced by Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch; released by the Geffen Company.
Starring Tom Cruise (Joel Goodsen), Rebecca De Mornay (Lana), Joe Pantoliano (Guido), Richard Masur (Rutherford), Bronson Pinchot (Barry), Curtis Armstrong (Miles), Nicholas Pryor (Joel’s Father), Janet Carroll (Joel’s Mother), Shera Danese (Vicki), Raphael Sbarge (Glenn) and Bruce A. Young (Jackie).