Secret Admirer (1985) – A Review

Secret Admirer 1985 movie poster

“I can’t believe I said those things to Deborah Anne Fimple. I mean, why didn’t I just walk up to her and say ‘Hey Debbie I’m an asshole’.”

“Oh I think she knows.”

Younger movie fans might only know C. Thomas Howell as some random guy who moved construction cranes to help Spider-Man. Yet there was a time when he was a young up-and-coming actor who was appearing in some pretty popular films (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Outsiders, Red Dawn), became a teen heartthrob gracing the covers of mags like Tiger Beat and was on the cusp of reaching Brat Pack super stardom.

But somewhere along the lines during the late 1980s his popularity started to wane. Roles started to dry up and soon one of the most prolific young actors in his day began the next stage of his career that consisted of starring in and directing straight-to-video films.

I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was that Soul Man movie that hurt his image and he just couldn’t recover from it. There were long stretches where I just didn’t see him anymore. I remember first watching the 1993 film Gettysburg and discovering under that a big bushy beard in a supporting part was Howell. It had been the first time I had seen him in a long time. After that I guess the next time I caught him in a big movie was when he was moving those cranes for Spidey.

Kelly Preston C. Thomas Howell Lori Loughlin Secret Admirer
Preston, Howell and Loughlin
what a young good looking cast

But we’re talking about 1985 when Howell was at his height of popularity and starring in the teen romantic comedy Secret Admirer.

On the last day of school Michael Ryan (Howell) receives an anonymous love letter.  His pack of goofy pals convince him it’s from the school hottie Debbie (Kelly Preston), who Michael has been madly in love with. Leaving aside the fact that she thinks he’s a dope and that she dates older more mature guys – we’re talking about twenty year-olds here folks – Michael takes his chances, professes his love for her and is immediately rejected.

Feeling kind of low with the support of his best friend Toni (Lori Loughlin) he decides to write his own anonymous love letter to Debbie. The much more brainy Toni sees he needs a bit of help in the written word department and secretly rewrites Michael’s letter transforming it into one romantic, passionate piece of literature. And it does the trick. Debbie is swooning over her secret admirer and is immediately getting heated up just thinking about who it could possibly be! Upon learning that it is indeed Michael and that he has all these deep emotions within him she suddenly doesn’t think of him as so much of a dork as before.

Lori Loughlin Kelly Preston Secret AdmirerInstead of our story ending with a beautiful romance all based on an initial lie, troubles begin to erupt. Unfortunately that love letter begins to change hands between Michael and Debbie’s parents (Dee Wallace, Cliff De Young, Leigh Taylor-Young, Fred Ward) and it begins to create a lot of jealousy, suspicion and wild results.

Meanwhile, Michael is learning that Debbie may not be the dream girl he imagined and that perhaps he should be looking elsewhere for that perfect someone. She could even be right under his nose!

Secret Admirer is something of a unique movie in terms of the teen/sex/comedy genre. By itself it’s an innocuous, silly, 80’s teen comedy that’s fairly average. But looking back at it and the time it was released, it’s a unique bridging film marking a shift in the teen comedy genre.

There really were two types of teen comedies in the 1980’s. We have the frivolous, brainless, juvenile, low-brow, salacious adventures of teen characters taking off their clothes and going to any lengths to get their rocks off – which is mainly what these reviews focus on.

C. Thomas Howell Secret Admirer 1985However, by the mid-80’s writer/director John Hughes introduced his blend of teen films that had much more emotional weight, angst and deeper characters than just guys running around with boners. With the success and popularity of Hughes’ films such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, they all contributed to a transformation in teen characters in movies and thus re-inventing the genre.

Oh sure there would still be teen/sex/comedies whose main goal was to show off boobs and wacky guys falling down hanging around for awhile, but they would soon start fading away and gradually become less and less popular. Most of the best remembered non-Hughes teen/sex/comedies would already have come out at this point. And those that got made throughout the rest of the decade would be forgettable imitators that would help the genre limp towards the end of the 1980s until their eventual demise. The Hughes films would be the first, and probably the biggest deathblow to those kind of teen/sex/comedies.

C. Thomas Howell Kelly Preston Secret Admirer movie comedy
Howell making the moves on Preston

So Secret Admirer is interesting since it sort of fell right in that grey period during the Hughes renaissance and the old school teen comedies whose philosophy was ‘let’s get as many chicks topless as we can in this scene’.

Here the tone treks into a bit more deeper, emotional motivations than just the superficial. There’s talk of love, relationships, heck the movie even makes references to Tender is the Night and The Way We Were. You won’t find such lofty name drops in Porky’s!

Don’t be mistaken, this is a silly teen comedy at its core and it’s not as well made as the Hughes films. But it is aiming higher than what fans had grown accustomed to at this point with most teen/sex/comedies. You can see a shift clearly happening with teen movies here. Had Secret Admirer been made three, four years earlier it probably would have been a much different movie.

Secret Admirer comedy movie cast

The first half of the movie centers around Michael pining away for Debbie, Toni rewriting his love letters to her, Debbie getting intrigued and finally Michael revealing himself as the author.

There’s nothing that complicated to set up the story. Yet this is half the movie and nothing really hysterical or entertaining happens on the teen side of all this. It is simply Michael wishing Debbie would love him, Toni re-writing his letters and Debbie eating them all up. The teen stars don’t have much more to do than just that.

There’s the one scene towards the beginning with Michael making his moves on Debbie at a frat party. This ends in a confrontation by Debbie’s boyfriend, Michael and his pals get chased by frat guys and their van crashes. That’s it!

Other than than that sequence there’s not a lot of comedy that start to result from Michael’s love letter, Toni rewrites it and Debbie gets intrigued by it. It’s not a lot of story happening. The characters are all pretty flat and and it’s all mainly to set in place the teen romance that is going to happen. They could have shortened this whole setup considerably. Or at least added some more comedy to it.

Secret Admirer comedy movie 1985
Parents hi-jinks

Fortunately, the movie gets to take a break from their teen stars and open things up to the parent characters, all of whom get roped into complications from that letter being read by unintended recipients. This results in the admittance of attraction and naturally jealously by the two sets of parents.

I never really thought any of that was particularly funny and I recall when I first watched this back in the day feeling cheated that so much of the screentime was devoted to this side story. Although admittedly, Fred Ward is pretty funny in this.

So half the movie (the parent saga) I’m not onboard with. That’s a pretty significant amount! What’s left is our teen romance and things progress very quickly without any real surprises or funny moments once Debbie learns who her secret admirer is. Michael lands Debbie, finds out she’s not so perfect and the realization hits of who may have written that first letter to him.

Kelly Preston young sexy hot Secret Admirer movie
Preston rocking the 80’s attire

There’s not much bite to any of it. It’s strange. I just re-watched this movie and am trying to think back on a funny memorable scene and can’t come up with anything. Other than the most superficial ones such as Preston taking off her top and the overhead shot of Loughlin wearing a bikini in a swimming pool-  it’s all forgettable.

It’s as if all they came up with nothing to do with the teen side of this story and settled on an extremely basic, mundane story that wouldn’t even fill up half the movie. And they didn’t even try to spice things up with any of that.

Come on! Jazz things up a bit. Maybe Michael now has to pretend to be this romantic passionate poet to keep Debbie interested, which leads to embarrassing situations. It would be a natural progression of Toni faking the love letters and the can of worms that she has opened up.

Perhaps Toni being the pal she is has to literally become Cyrano de Bergerac helping Michael romance Debbie. There’s some comedy that could be mined from that. But no. Michael and Debbie just go off on some very bland dates.

Even Debbie’s boyfriend, who you would think Michael has to contend with and will be a threat is diffused in a somewhat awkward way by Toni and then he disappears for the rest of the movie until the very end. At least throw in some more wacky hijinks at the Dancin’ Burger with Michael’s goofy friends! If the parents didn’t come into this then Secret Admirer could have been a 30 minute flick.

C. Thomas Howell Lori Loughlin Secret Admirer
Howell hanging with a geeky girl –
Loughlin is a geek! Just look at her!

And I’m about to get into some spoiler territory here so if you don’t want the big twist to Secret Admirer revealed to you better bail out now! Although I can’t imagine anyone getting steamed the ending to this flick got spoiled for them, but still there’s your warning.

In the end we find out Toni is the one responsible for the first love letter from the very beginning. She is the one who has been madly in love with Michael all this time. See? I don’t think that’s a major revelation. You could probably predict that right from the plot synopsis.

But it might have been more fun had the movie clued us in on this at the beginning and played up the fact that the girl who loves Michael is now forced to actually help him try to make Debbie fall for him. That alone would have been something more going on than what we have to watch as it is.

Or hey, how about this! Toni’s rewritten love letter falls into the hands of one of Michael’s pals who then believes Toni has the hots for him. Maybe even Toni agrees to go out on a date with him to make Michael jealous. Perhaps Toni is really disgusted by the guy, but puts up a charade of being really into him in front of Michael, he buys it and all of a sudden his interest in Debbie starts to lessen and he starts to look at Toni in less a friend way, but as a hot chick way and discovers he has feelings for her!

Kelly Preston C. Thomas Howell Secret Admirer movie

I’m really starting to rant about a dopey teen comedy, but there could have been a bit more complexity and funny situations than what the final results were.

There are a few nice moments between Michael and Toni just talking, Toni taking some payback on the boasting Roger (Casey Siemazko) by smashing up his van, but for most of the movie things remain somewhat stagnant and never really dials up the hilarity and hijinks on the teen side of things. It’s a sunny, bright looking movie and it looks like it has some promise, especially with the fun-sounding premise, but all the repercussions and entertainment from that letter is given to the parents.

For a teen movie made in 1985 it doesn’t drip with its decade like you might think. The soundtrack obviously has some 80’s songs, but the clothing doesn’t stand out that much. Other than Preston wearing what was once chic and fashionable clothing, most of the cast are wearing somewhat generic, timeless attire. Howell walks around in flannel shirts, jeans (sure parachute pants and Ray-Bans make an appearance), his buddies wear t-shirts and army stuff. Even Loughlin sports quite sedate sweaters and nerdy plain looking long dresses and junk.

No one is supposed to know she’s hot remember? It’s amazing they didn’t make her wear glasses. ‘Cause remember kids, girls in glasses are nerds! There’s no such thing as a hot girl in glasses!

Lori Loughlin Kelly Preston sexy hot Secret Admirer

That’s one of the funny things about Secret Admirer is how Loughlin is meant to be portrayed. Preston is supposed to be the hot girl in school, everyone is gaga over her, everyone dreams of her. Loughlin on the other hand is the plain jane. No one gives her a second look. At certain points the guys even make fun of her. It’s ridiculous.

I know personal preferences and all that, but ever since seeing this movie it has created quite a conundrum in my head over who I would choose – Kelly Preston or Lori Loughlin. They both look gorgeous in this movie. If you were to see them both walking together down the halls I’m not sure how you could decide which you’d fall for first. And I certainly don’t think you’d be thinking, “oh that one is hot and that one is a nerd”. I don’t care what kind of bland clothes they throw on Loughlin, there’s no hiding her hotness.

Anyway, there’s not much more to say about Secret Admirer. It’s a bland movie with no real funny stuff going one. Although it has two gorgeous girls in it and Preston fans will be happy with a brief scene of her removing her top. To some that might be enough to warrant watching it. Although if that’s the main selling point for you I would recommend watching Mischief instead. It’s a funnier movie and you get to see much more of Preston au natural.

Secret Admirer C. Thomas Howell teen comedy
That damn love letter

It’s not like it’s one of the most popular movies or titles of its genre, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood gets its hands on it for a remake one day. They would have to do some updating with it I suppose. Maybe instead of a love letter, a love text goes around. Do kids today even pass notes anymore? No one uses actual pens and paper nowadays right? But a remake could conceivably improve on the movies premise and actually go further with it than the original did.

It could also provide a nice cameo role for Howell and have a new generation know him for something else. “Hey, you know the guy who helped Spider-Man? Well, he also plays the father in this new movie called Secret Admirer!”

So forget just watching the trailer for Secret Admirer, why not watch the entire movie! Or if you just want to gawk at Kelly Preston’s boobs it’s around fifty-three and half minutes when she drops her bra. I still don’t understand how people are posting entire movies on Youtube and they give me grief for doing movie review videos. Go figure.



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5 Responses

  1. spaceodds says:

    C Thomas Howell really was one of the popular teen actors around. For me, the man will always be Jim Halsey in The Hitcher (a fantastic and slightly underrated road thriller) Judging from your premise, this film was both behind and ahead of its time. I can imagine this film not succeeding during the brilliant John Hughes era, but in the present day, it would hit paydirt. I'm surprised no one has come up with an idea to remake this with an annoying young cast.

  2. CKulik says:

    Wow, I'm a bit disappointed this film didn't win you over on a recent viewing. Sure, it remains unique among the genre and damn is Fred Ward hilarious in this. It's a comedy of errors, in the classic Shakespearean sense, and the parent stuff I actually think is very amusing, if never descending into outright hilarity. I watched it with my parents awhile back and they both loved it: they actually liked how the story was able to fuse both parents with their kids, while also dipping into the teen sex genre.

    Speaking of C. Thomas Howell: he was one of the front-runners for Marty McFly in BACK TO THE FUTURE. Michael J. Fox was too busy with "Family Ties" and it became a two-man race between Howell and Eric Stoltz. The writers, producer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis behind BTTF wanted Howell, but the studio insisted on Stoltz even though his film MASK with Cher hadn't been yet released. As we should know Stoltz was eventually fired and replaced with Fox once he had gotten wind of the script. Recently, I had seen THE HITCHER (1986) with Howell for the first time and was very impressed….the guy was likable, even ingratiating and even in SECRET ADMIRER showcases that. Oh, and talk about irony: two of Howell's buddies were JJ Cohen and Casey Siemaszko, who also played 2 of Biff's goons…in fact Cohen was supposed to be Biff with Eric Stoltz was cast. But then Fox became Marty McFly, and they realized that Cohen as Biff wasn't imposing enough against Fox, so they got Thomas F. Wilson, who was awesome. So, there is a weird connection for you!

    To be honest, I still prefer this over MISCHIEF and other 80's teen movies simply because of the uniqueness of it all: it definitely tried to bridge something between the generations which I, well, admired. Deberah Ann Fimple watching DOCTOR ZHIVAGO? And, yes, I do 100% agree one of the problems was that Loughlin and Preston were both downright gorgeous, which obviously causes some questions in terms how both are treated by their peers. Loughlin actually got the worst end of the deal compared to Howell: she ended up on FULL HOUSE, which is my vote for the worst sitcom of the '80s….I would rather watch SMALL WONDER over that slop.

    And I love the ending to SECRET ADMIRER: it's sweet, all of the characters were put in their place, and it even preceded the ending to OVERBOARD. This film has its flaws, to be sure, but it deserves credit and remains pretty underrated in my book. And the score by Jan Hammer is terrific; Corey Haim as the younger brother is pretty funny too. That running gag of the other characters stealing…still find it hilarious. If only they had fixed the Loughlin casting and beefed up the parent's subplot it could have been much better, true. But they at the very least deserve credit for what they were doing: as you say, this is as unique as it gets in the annals of teen sex comedies in the 1980s. Great review, man!

  3. CKulik says:

    HAHAHA! The poll is currently tied! Also, Fred Ward does have the best lines in this flick bar none:

    "Get your hands off my daughter brute-lips!"
    "One more thing: if you get her pregnant (pats gun), I'll blow your dick off!"
    "Okay, f*ck them…they are doing it to us and we will do it to them…where do you want to meet?"

    He ALONE makes the film worth watching, seriously!

    • I love Ward's line to the boyfriend saying something like:
      "Gee you're getting big, what are you benching now?"
      "About 170 sir."
      "Oh. What's two plus two?"

      He does have some funny lines in this.

  4. John Jamele says:

    I think I liked him best in "Soul Man," maybe the most underrated "thinking man's comedy" of the 1980s- one that actually had a valuable message.

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