Watching “The Outsiders” the other day, I noticed a pretty mean message buried beneath the cringe-inducing sap poured over the back half of the flick like thick, soggy porridge – a wicked trick played on the family audience by the director, Francis Ford Coppola, a master of viewer mind games, the guy who can make you think a piece of fruit holds a deep truth about life and death.
“Stay Gold,” the dying kid says – what’s his name, Sodapop, Pepper Steak, Cap’n Crunch? Nevermind – the Karate Kid who takes a toasted rafter to the head in the church – Ralph Machio, you know the one. His friend, C.Thomas Howell, mediates on these dying words and figures that “Nothing Gold can stay” (or so he takes from Robert Frost), meaning that you gotta keep what’s green inside you (stay in the Spring, not Fall – it’s kind of a mixed metaphor, but stay with me).
It’s a real F-U to adults, isn’t it?
Simply because if you think the kids in the movie, the connections they make with one another, and the revelations they endure are a little, oh…sissy, then you can just go straight to hell, because you’ve missed the movie’s message and are too old and jaded to understand it.
It’s a little hard to watch “The Outsiders” as an adult, as I decided to do when I saw it sitting there for me on my Netflix home page under the “Suggestions for You” tab (I think it was for watching some Gang Wars documentary about the Cripps and the Bloods, or something – won’t make that mistake again). You want to like it. It’s got that great 80s cash cow of having all the young stars of Hollywood before they hit and developed their own strange afflictions; it’s helmed by Coppola, the man you’ve come to love since you were a kid and saw the flick the first time, the dude who brought you The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, and; oh, God, Diane Lane, as the immeasurable Cherry Valance, in an appearance that, several years later, makes you grateful still that Unfaithful got made. It’s hard to sit through its tacky melodrama, nailed into your head continually from the beginning to the end, both ends sapped up big time with the (sounds like) Made-for-TV drawl of Stevie Wonder’s “Stay Gold.” Yet, as I struggled through it, I almost felt guilty I didn’t like it.
I could see the intentions were genuine. The actors worked hard for you; they wanted you to feel their characters’ pain. Still, as the ending approached, and Matt Dillon gets shot down by the cops in a blaze of glory that I’d been conditioned from the first bit of TV I ever watched to enjoy but at that moment could care less about, I thought, “Am I too cynical to appreciate the message, or is this just bad?”
When I was a kid, I hated “The Outsiders” – both versions: the book because it was a fixture of the dreaded Accelerated Reader Program in school, the one that always interrupted what I really wanted to read with some arbitrary bullstuff that I was required to read and have my cursory knowledge of assessed; the movie because it was, well, stupid – and this is coming from a guy who declared on his high school news broadcast that Lethal Weapon 2 was the best movie he had ever seen (seriously, I have the tape…it’s pretty sad).
So it’s a pretty fair testament, I think, to how paltry a movie is when you hated it as a kid and returned to as an adult only to find that some things never change.
Oh, and I still think Lethal Weapon 2 is, at least, the best of the series.
A bunch of kids with nothing but grease in their hair go up against a bunch of kids with Mustangs. A greaser kills a soc, goes on the run. His friend dies. He’s sad, writes an essay about what he’s learned. The essay’s the movie. Lane’s a looker. Cruise plays a redneck. Dillon says, “Let’s do it for Johnny.”
1 shot every time Swayze’s shirtless (this goes unsaid for any Swayze movie).
1 shot for every shot of film (you’ll be crying by the end).