Set in Baltimore in the last week of 1959. It's about six friends: Boogie, a law school graduate and gambling addict who works at a beauty shop and is the closest among the group to a ladies' man; Eddie, who's getting married, but is making his bride-to-be pass a test about the Baltimore Colts prior to the ceremony; Fenwick, a rich screw-up; Modell, the Deadpan Snarker hanger-on; Shrevie, who works at an appliance store and is the only one of the group who's married (to Beth), although not happily; and Billy, who's come back from college for the wedding and has his own relationship problems with Barbara, who works at the local TV station.
Though not a big hit on release, thanks in part to Executive Meddling, this became a cult hit on video, and helped to launch the careers of Mickey Rourke (Boogie), Steve Guttenberg (Eddie), Kevin Bacon (Fenwick), Paul Reiser (Modell), Daniel Stern (Shrevie), Ellen Barkin (Beth), and Tim Daly (Billy). It's also one of the earliest films to feature Seinfeldian Conversation, and – according to many of its fans (including Judd Apatow, Nick Hornby, and Jerry Seinfeld himself) – may be the Ur-Example.
For the pinball machine from Williams, click here.
This film contains examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Fenwick. This would probably explain why he does things like punch out windows and sit in the crib of a Nativity display.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Though Eddie gets married in a synagogue, which is not ambiguous, Boogie uses words like "schmuck", and the arguments Eddie and Modell get into could arguably be categorized as Jews Love to Argue, there's no indication of this otherwise.
- And This Is for...: Billy doesn't actually say these words, but when he punches out Willard - a guy who was part of a baseball team that jumped him during a game when Billy was in 10th grade (and whom Billy swore revenge against) - outside a movie theater, it's implied when he says, "Now we're even."
- Later, Boogie says the same thing to Tank when he punches him out (after Tank had beaten him up earlier for not paying off his bet) once he finds out Bagel paid off his debt.
- Arc Words: After Boogie has been given the brush-off by a woman on a horse, Fenwick, who's been watching, says, "Do you ever get the feeling that there's something going on that we don't know about?"
- Bait-and-Switch: When Billy and Eddie visit a strip club, Billy gets upset the band at the club (actually, a saxophone player and a drummer) are playing music too slowly, so he jumps up on stage. At first, he plays what sounds like classical music, and everyone groans (even Eddie looks a little worried). Then, without warning, Billy starts playing rock-n-roll, the other musicians get into, and so do Eddie, the stripper, and the rest of the crowd.
- Berserk Button: It's bad enough that Beth can't understand the importance of Shrevie's record-collection organization system, but she also doesn't know who Charlie Parker is.
- Big Eater: Earl, who orders the entire left side of the menu, which is 22 sandwiches plus the fried chicken dinner. The guys all applaud him when he leaves the diner on his own power, plus is able to drive off.Modell: He's not human, he's not a person. He's like a building with feet.
- Blatant Lies: What Boogie tells Carol Heathrow to cover up his actions in the popcorn scene. See Refuge in Audacity below.
- Buffy Speak: When Eddie explains to Billy why he's marrying Elyse even though he would have preferred to date her for the rest of his life, he says, "Girls want that marriage thing."
- By "No", I Mean "Yes": When Billy meets Barbara at the church she goes to, he asks if there's anything wrong. She says no at first, but then admits, "Yes. I think I'm pregnant."
- Comically Missing the Point: While waiting in jail (again, It Makes Sense in Context), Billy asks Eddie's advice on what to do with Barbara. Eddie, of course, suggest they get married and have the kid. When Billy points out not only does she not want to get married, but she has her own career, Eddie hems and haws a bit until saying, "I tried bringing up a reasonable solution, and you had to bring her into it."
- Couldn't Find a Lighter: Fenwick lights a cigarette using a stove at the store Shrevie works at.
- Cry into Chest: After Shreve and Beth have a fight and he storms off, Boogie comes over to get the money Shreve said he'd lend him, only to find Beth in tears. As he comforts her and tries to find out what happened, Beth cries and puts her head against Boogie's chest.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Played for laughs; this is how Fenwick explains the "blood" on his hand (see Faking the Dead below).
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Much of what the guys do to women in the movie, from Fenwick claiming he told a date, "Fuck or fight" (even though it turned out he was joking), to the "popcorn" scene (see Refuge in Audacity below), would never fly today, but that's part of the point of the movie, showing how the male characters had problems dealing with women at that time.
- Faking the Dead: Played for laughs; Fenwick pretends to have gotten in a car accident and thrown from the car so that Boogie, Modell, Shrevie and Beth will think he's dead. Not until Boogie is standing over Fenwick does he let them in on the joke. Also, the "blood" on his face is from a ketchup bottle he'd been carrying around for weeks.
- The Gambling Addict: Boogie. He gets into all kinds of trouble for this, until Bagel pays off his bet.
- The Ghost: Elyse. We hear her during the quiz, but we never see her face, only her back.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Eddie. He spends most of the movie acting like he's doing Elyse a favor by marrying her (not to mention the football quiz he's making her take), he's demanding with his mother, and he's constantly harping on silly things. However, he's very loyal to his friends, he reveals he's incredibly nervous about what marriage will be like (which is why he makes Elyse take the quiz in the first place, so he knows they'll have something to talk about), not to mention the fact he's really a virgin, and while she fails the test by two points because Shrevie answered a question before she could, and Eddie initially wouldn't give her credit, much later, he decides to give her credit so they can get married.
- Lame Pun Reaction: After visiting the strip club (see Bait-and-Switch above), Billy, Eddie and the stripper go to a coffee shop and he tells the following joke:Eddie: Hickory dickory doc, the mice ran up the clock, the clock struck one...and the other two escaped with minor injuries. (the other two groan). Third-grade humor. I've graduated.
Stripper: Now it's fifth-grade humor?
- Must Have Caffeine: After the guys pick Billy up from the train station, Fenwick stops to get coffee at the station, even though they're all going straight to the diner, simply because he wants coffee now.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: During the football quiz, Shrevie inadvertently blurts out the answer to a question before Elyse can answer it. However, though it means she ends up failing the quiz, Eddie eventually decides since she knew the answer, he'd give her the credit so they could get married.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Except for Bagel (played by Baltimore native Michael Tucker) and a few of the minor characters, no one speaks in a Baltimore accent.
- The Oner: The opening shot of the movie, which tracks Modell as he walks into a dance hall to find Boogie.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Boogie's real name is Bobby, but we don't find that out till near the end of the movie.
- Platonic Life-Partners: Barbara and Billy started that way, until they slept together one night; she wants to return to that relationship, but he wants something more.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: When Boogie goes to see Carol in the bathroom of the movie theater (after the "popcorn" scene; see Refuge in Audacity below), we see a hand dryer on the wall, which might seem out of place, but in fact, hand dryers had been around since the 1920's, and had become popular since the late 1940's.
- Recycled In Space: I Vitelloni set in Baltimore. Alternatively, an East Coast version of American Graffiti.
- Refuge in Audacity: Boogie bets the other guys he can get Carol Heathrow to touch his penis. So, when they're at the movies that night, at one point he opens his fly and puts the popcorn box over his penis. Eventually, as she's reaching for the popcorn, she touches it, freaks, and runs out of the theater. When he catches up to her in the girl's bathroom, he explains he only opened his fly because she got him excited, so he wanted to try and calm down. However, a certain point in the movie made him get excited again, and the penis just went through the bottom of the box. She seems to buy it.
- Fenwick has his own moment; after he gets turned down for a loan by his estranged brother Howard, he gets drunk and goes by an outdoor Nativity scene, where he notices the life-sized Baby Jesus is missing. So what does he do? He strips down to his shorts and sits in the baby crib himself. And when Shrevie, Eddie and Billy try to get him out of there, he refuses to leave until the police come by.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Part of the reason for the Executive Meddling; studio executives didn't understand such scenes as Eddie and Modell arguing over a roast beef sandwich, telling Levinson to cut that out and get on with the story, to which Levinson replied, "That is the story."
- Serious Business: This movie is filled to the brim with it. In addition to Shrevie's argument with Beth (see above), we have the following:
- Eddie's football quiz for his bride-to-be Elyse. Not only that, but the wedding decor is blue and white (the Colts' colors), and the music playing during the wedding ceremony is the Colts' marching song.
- Eddie constantly annoys his friends by asking them who they prefer, Sinatra or Mathis. When Boogie takes a third option and answers "Presley", it sets off Eddie's Berserk Button.
- Everyone goes to see the movie A Summer Place. Later in the movie, we also see Billy and Eddie going to see The Seventh Seal.
- A minor character can quote Sweet Smell of Success by heart, much to Eddie and Modell's annoyance.
- When Shrevie is at work at the appliance store, we can see the 1949 movie version of Little Women playing on one of the televisions. Also, a customer there complains about when he tried watching Bonanza on a color TV.
- Smug Snake: Fenwick's brother Howard.Fenwick: It's funny. You know, when I was a little kid I always wanted a brother. I told that to mom once and she said, "You have a brother". I said, "Oh, so that's who the asshole in the other bed is".
- Source Music: Almost all of the music in the movie is source music, coming from a car radio or the diner, except the music in the last scene and when Boogie is riding a horse.
- That Nostalgia Show: To the '50s/early '60s.
- Unusual Euphemism: Fenwick tends to describe any prank he pulls as a "smile".
- The guys all describe a beautiful woman as "death".