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Film / License to Drive

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A 1988 American teen comedy directed by Greg Beeman that has a teen (Corey Haim) trying to have a great date night with a beautiful girl (Heather Graham), despite failing his driver's test and having a night at the town.

The movie also stars Corey Feldman, Carol Kane, Richard Masur, Parley Baer, Nina Siemaszko, James Avery, and Grant Goodeve.

It was released on July 6, 1988.

Tropes for the film:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Natalie's "commie" boyfriend repeatedly refers to and addresses her as "Natasha." Possibly it's meant as an Affectionate Nickname; however, near the end of the film, she yells, "My name is Natalie!" which seems to surprise him.
  • The Alleged Car: Over the course of the film, Grandpa's once majestic Cadillac gets completely totaled by the events of Les' misadventure. By the end, it can only drive in reverse, and a falling crane finishes it off. And then it turns out Grandpa wrecked his son's BMW as well.
  • An Aesop: It's Played for Laughs, but this film demonstrates why you shouldn't do the following.
    • Don't drive drunk.
    • Don't put anyone in the trunk of a car.
    • Don't drive on public roads without a driver's license.
    • Don't take someone else's car without permission, driver's license or not.
    • Don't sleep through your Driver's Ed class and expect to pass the written exam.
    • Don't fuck with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. They can make your life a living Hell.
  • Artistic License – Law: Even if the police officers on a scene are called away as backup due to a riot, there is no way they'd just drive off and leave behind a drunk driver and a kid who not only didn't have a driver's license but had his obviously inebriated date in the trunk of his car.
  • Bad Ass Driver: Crossed over with Drives Like Crazy and Played for Laughs. Les is able to drive his mother to the hospital in reverse, driving on the sidewalk, through oncoming traffic and perfectly parks the car at the hospital curb. His dad is so impressed that he ends up forgiving him for all the calamities he caused.
  • Big "WHAT?!":
    • Les finally coming clean to his friends at the sobriety checkpoint:
    Dean:Are you telling us that you left the house on your first night with a license without a license?
    Les: No, Dean, I'm not telling you that. (sighs) Look guys... I failed my exam.
    Dean/Charles: You what?!
    • Robert caps off his tirade against Les with one.
    Robert Anderson: Let me tell you something, buddy-boy: you are damn lucky your mother didn't go into labor tonight!
    Mrs. Anderson: Robert! I am in labor!
    Robert Anderson: DAMN LUCKY! (beat) WHAT?!
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: If Les' road test performance and his rapport with Mercedes are anything to go by, he is just as intelligent, capable and charming as his twin sister Natalie. In fact, during their respective road tests, we see that both siblings are quite confident, handle their tasks competently, and develop a rapport with their respective proctors. Had he not slept through the Driver's Ed course, he'd likely get the same perfect score on his written test as his twin sister and avoid a lot of the problems that he runs into.
  • Chekhov's Gun: During Les' dream sequence, we cut to the Driver's Ed class that's showing an educational film on what happens when a car hydroplanes. Furthermore, the narrator states that should you go through a large puddle he says "don't panic" and, especially, "don't jam on your brakes".
  • Cool Car: The Cadillac, prior to all the damage it sustains, is an incredibly cool car to the protagonists. 16 years old with just 20,000 miles on it. It has a set of gulf clubs in the huge trunk (bigger than Dean's bedroom) and a cassette stereo that prefers Frank Sinatra and tolerates modern songs like Nia Peeples "Trouble" and Pebbles "Mercedes Boy" but ends up eating and spitting out Les's "Mercedes Date - Make-out songs" mixtape in favor of one of its own tapes to help woo Mercedes. There are plenty of other cool cars too including Paulo's Ferrari 308, a yellow Iroc-Z Camaro, the punk's GTO and various hot rods seen at Archies.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Mercedes Lane has some hints of this. She's a teenager dating a much older guy (who is openly misogynistic, controlling, and unfaithful), talks about a father who may or may not still be in her life, and downs a bottle of champagne after catching said older guy cheating.
  • Delayed Reaction: Les quietly enters the garage when his parents come out, and he hides in the car. Les's dad notices that the garage was left open; his wife thinks Natalie left it but he reminds her that she took the Audi. Then he notices car tracks over the front lawn. When his wife began to go into labor, he's just about to go to her when he finally notices that his father's car is totally wrecked. Which leads to...
    Robert Anderson: Something wrong with your bed, Les?
    (Les comes out of his hiding place under the car's dash)
    Robert Anderson: Mind explaining to me what sized shark was responsible for this?
    Les Anderson: Well, it wa—
    Robert Anderson: No! I don't want to know! I don't want to know! Save it for the Judge! Do you have any idea what you've done tonight, Les? What this means to your future in this house and on this planet?!
    Les Anderson: I have an idea.
    (Robert begins pacing around the wrecked Caddy while Les fearfully moves to avoid him)
    Robert Anderson: We had a college fund set aside for you-- that's gone now. You had free room and board, two trusting parents, and a social life. It's all gone. You had a TV, a stereo, a baseball mitt, a tennis racket, a skateboard, a bicycle--ALL GONE! And-- you even had sunlight and a window in your room!
  • Driving Test: Les has to get his driver's license in order to date Mercedes. Hilarity Ensues. Les actually does incredibly well on his road test; it's the written test that he fails.
  • Hidden Depths: Dean comes across as a slacker but he turns out to be quite capable at paint-less dent removal and straightens out the Caddy's collapsed hood. He's also the one to encourage his friend to ask Mercedes out.
  • Hypocrite: Natalie's "Commie" boyfriend Carl. For starters, for all his talk about how the automobile is a tool of oppression, he has one himself. For another, he leaves his Citroen 2CV parked at the Anderson's home while she—a kid who just got her driver's license that day and is inexperienced—drives them to the protest in her mother's Audi, which ends up being towed along with the other protester's vehicles. He also puts her—a 16-year-old kid—in harm's way by taking her to a protest that rapidly turns into a riot (fortunately, they're both arrested and removed from the scene before that happens).
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Carl, Natalie's "commie" boyfriend. He seems to think that owning a car, along with living in the United States, is "oppressive". Dream sequence aside, the only time the audience sees anything resembling oppression in the movie is entirely self-inflicted when he and Natalie go to the protest at Allied Tech and get arrested. Though it's unclear if he's specifically referring to life in the United States or the world as a whole. Or if he considers capitalism and materialism oppression; which arguably are not metrics for how oppressive a government is.
  • Laughing Mad: Subverted. When Grandpa sees the absolute wreck his car has become, he starts giggling in a manner that comes across as this. It turns out he's laughing at how he also wrecked his son's car the night before as well.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Their first outing together has Dean blinding Les with Charles' camera flashnote , causing him to veer off the freeway, go through a puddle and end up in a 360 skid. Then the three of them scream as they crash through a fence, fly down a hill, then get into a skidding stop that perfectly parks them in front a restaurant.
    • Followed immediately by Dean freaking out when Mercedes briefly regains consciousness and states she's going to throw up while laying on top of Dean.
    • At the sobriety checkpoint, Charles has one and thinks they're going to get arrested and locked up when he and Dean realize that Les doesn't have a driver's license.
    • Later Charles and Dean have one when they see the road they're on has a "road closed ahead" sign and realize that Les and the drunk driver in the Cadillac are about to crash.
      Charles/Dean: OH SHIT!!!
    • Upon returning home, Les' father and Les have them in fairly rapid succession, starting with Robert realizing the Caddy has been wrecked, followed by Les realizing how much pain he's in for, then Robert realizing that his wife is in labor and finally Les still freaking out when Robert points out the missing left rear door handle.
      Robert Anderson: No. Handle! No handle! No handle!
    • After arriving at the hospital, they talk about how they'll fix the car... only for for a heavy steel beam to fall right on it and crush it.
    • Finally, Les' Grandfather comes to get his car. See Tempting Fate below.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are incredibly understanding and supportive parents to their children. To a point. They take Natalie's rant about "oppression"—which she got from her "commie boyfriend—in stride but her mother draws the line at hearing it from the source. Robert is willing to let Les drive a short distance to woo Mercedes alone but berates him when his son goes back on his word and strands him. To say nothing about Les taking the Cadillac without permission and wrecking it.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Les accidentally does this to the computer system when he bombs the written driving exam and smacks his monitor in frustration. It knocks out all the computers in the room, making his results temporarily unavailable. However, since Natalie aced the written exam, the proctor allows him to go ahead with the road test because she figures he can't be that different from his twin sister.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Les and Natalie probably couldn't be more different if they were actively trying (which, all things considered, they very possibly are).
  • Police Are Useless: The two police officers at the sobriety checkpoint get an Epic Fail for this one. When Les and a drunk driver are caught, the two officers are called away due to a riot at Allied Tech. This is after catching a drunk driver, catching Les driving without a license and finding Les's date in the trunk of the car. The officer also fails to search the drunk driver, who was not only carrying small bottles of alcohol but a knife to slice limes. They should all have been placed under arrest on the spot. Instead, one officer Lamp Shades how lucky Les is and runs off. Hilarity Ensues when the drunk driver is also left behind by the guy's partner (who left him unattended and clearly forgot about him), mistakes the Caddy for a Maserati, and drives off in it.
    (After Les shuts the Caddy's trunk, the engine starts and it suddenly roars off with the drunk driver behind the wheel, crashing through multiple barriers and weaving side to side leaving the threesome in shock)
    Les: I'm dead. I'm so dead they're gonna have to bury me twice.
    (While driving, the Drunk Driver removes several small bottles from his pockets and lines them up on the dashboard while listening to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life")
    Drunk Driver: Looks like I'm in for the night.
    (after jumping the Caddy)
    Drunk Driver: Whew! What airline is this?!
  • Practically Different Generations: Les and Natalie are sixteen years old. Their mother is pregnant and, near the end of the movie, gives birth to another set of twins. This also plants the family (just barely) in Massive Numbered Siblings territory, as there is another brother roughly midway between the two sets of twins in age.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: The car is Les's grandfather's 1972 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, which he left behind while he borrows Robert's BMW for a week. The simple plan was for Les to just take his girlfriend Mercedes out for a ride, a couple hours long. By the end of the film, the Cadillac has been completely wrecked in a demolition-derby ride through Los Angeles, up to and including being stolen by a drunk driver (who pukes inside of the car) and driving in reverse to the hospital by Les to help his mother deliver a baby (and the car then gets flattened by a falling girder). Grandpa didn't have any better luck himself, either, and he hands the keys to the BMW and the towed remains of the car in the epilogue.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • The lady at the DMV gives a beautiful one.
    Lady at the DMV: You mustn't fuck with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Mr. Anderson. We can make your life a living hell.
    • Les gives a hilarious one when his friend Charles suggests that confronting a drunk driver in a moving car might be dangerous.
    Les: You telling me about about "dangerous"? Charles, you want to know what's "dangerous"?! Me going home and having to explain to my father that this piece of shit is my Grandfather's Cadillac!note 
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Natalie's mother gives Natalie's "commie" boyfriend Carl a funny one when he goes into a self-serving (and increasingly aggressive) speech about "having the courage to bring a child into this oppressive world" by simply shouting out her daughter's name. All with a pleasant smile that says "you can date my daughter, but I'm not taking your crap."
  • Tempting Fate: Robert is on the receiving end of it when his father shows up knocking on his door.
    Robert Anderson: I know my father. The last thing in the world he's going to be worried about is his car.
    (opens the door)
    Robert Anderson: Hi Dad.
    Grandpa: Where's my Caddy?
    Robert Anderson: (beat) LES DID IT!
    (Robert hides behind Les)
    Robert Anderson: It was Les, I didn't...
  • Watch the Paint Job: Les borrows his grandfather's prized 1972 Cadillac without permission, and during the course of a very wild night, it sustains major damage. Inverted when the grandfather laughs off the damage because he had also destroyed the BMW he had borrowed from Les's father.
    Grandpa: (through laughter) I had a little trouble with your car too!
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: The central part of the movie, not only is the exact phrase used, not only is it used by Les, not only is the moment he says it featured prominently in the movie's trailer... but he addresses the question directly to the audience! Of course, as it turns out, the answer is practically everything that could.