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Film / The Sure Thing

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A 1985 Romantic Comedy directed by Rob Reiner, starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga.

Walter "Gib" Gibson (Cusack) is just an 18-year-old at some snowy New England college, trying to get laid and trolling on Allison (Zuniga), the Brainy Brunette in his English class. It's not going well. Then Lance (Anthony Edwards), his best friend from high school who's now going to college in Los Angeles, sends him a picture of a hot blonde (Nicollette Sheridan), with the assurance that she's "a sure thing." If Gib can make it out to L.A. for winter break before "the sure thing" goes off for a semester at sea, he can totally bag that. Gib goes along on a rideshare, only it turns out that Allison's going to L.A. to visit her boyfriend too...

Tim Robbins has a small part as a cheerful student who ultimately regrets sharing a ride with Allison and Gib.

This film provides examples of:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Professor Taub: [reading Gib's paper] "To arrive at this moment, he had traveled vast distances, enduring many hardships. Abject poverty, starvation, show tunes, you name it."
  • Attempted Rape: The cowboy in the pickup truck, who picks up Allison when she's trying to hitchhike away from Gib.
  • Buses Are for Freaks: After Gib gets into the shared-ride car and finds Allison, she says "I knew I should have taken the bus", and he says "What, and get stuck sitting next to some sleaze bag?" Sure enough, when they do go to a bus station, there are dirty homeless people sleeping on the benches.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: After Gib finally sees The Sure Thing in person, and expresses reluctance, a nonplussed Lance says "The breasts are too small?"
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Zig-Zagged — in the bar scene, a double bourbon and a beer is enough to get Gib buying his new-found friends troughs of spritzer and joining in impromptu Christmas caroling. At the frat party, however, he seems to deal with the heavily-spiked punch just fine.
  • Character Development: Happens to both Allison and Gib on their road trip together - she learns to be less uptight and more spontaneous (while realizing Jason, her boyfriend, is rather dull - see Disposable Boyfriend below), while he learns he may just be looking for romance rather than just sex. They also start to realize they may be right for each other.
  • Cool Teacher: Professor Taub: free spirited, funny, and perfectly capable of nailing the strengths and weaknesses of students as opposite as Gib and Alison and inspiring both to reach new heights.
  • Credit Card Plot: Inverted, as Allison is excessively responsible. Gib and Allison have lost all their money and are stuck in a rainstorm, trying to break into a locked trailer for shelter, when she remembers a credit card her father had given her. But then she remembers something important:
    Allison: Oh. My dad told me specifically I can only use it in case of an emergency.
    Gib: Well, maybe one will come up.
  • Cue the Rain: Gib is engaging in a river of complaints when the two of them are stuck by the roadside without any money. An irritated Allison says "Can't you look on the bright side?" This is followed by a clap of thunder and a rainstorm of monsoon proportions.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: Seemingly the case with "the sure thing", who asks Gib to say that he loves her.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Everyone is still at college partying on December 22 or so? And nobody's parents are demanding to see them for the holidays?
    • Reasonable in-universe; in 2017, there were at least ten days between the end of finals at different US colleges, so Alison & Gib could've made it across the country in that time. Further, about 70% of UCLA students are from California, which means they wouldn't have as far to travel after exams — not that Lance and most of his friends care about exams anyway.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Gib and "the sure thing", revealed at the end when they're back at school. They didn't.
  • Disney Theme Parks: At one point Allison wants to go to Disneyland, only to be brutally rebuffed with "Disneyland is for children."
  • Disposable Boyfriend: Jason, Type 1/2: He's an achiever, studying to be a lawyer, wants to find and restore an old farmhouse with Alison, and even shares her love of basset hounds. On the other hand, he is so prematurely stuffy he's incapable of enjoying any fun... except maybe gin rummy. His last line implies they end on an I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy note.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Said almost verbatim by Gib to the imaginary audience in a motel TV set when he is teaching Alison to shotgun a beer.
  • Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows: Gib, thinking he and Alison are establishing a relationship, walks out of the bathroom to find Alison on the phone to her long-distance relationship, again. So Gib heads to the nearest bar. Gib and two newfound friends rapidly descend to the point that they're singing an inebriated version of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire".
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Alison overhears part — the worst part, of course — of Gib and the trucker who picks them up, while they think she's asleep in the truck cab's bunk.
  • Fat Comic Relief: one of Gib's drinking buddies in the bar scene is extremely obese, but with a personality roughly equal parts Warm-Hearted Walrus and Captain Obvious.
  • Flyover Country: Director Rob Reiner went to UCLA; writers Steven Bloom and Jonathan Roberts went to Brown. The scenes in the unnamed New England Ivy League-type college and at UCLA are very sharply detailed. The 3000 miles between, in contrast, are in good old generic America.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After Gib tells Allison he thinks the Mooning they just saw (see below) was hilarious because it was spontaneous, she replies, "Spontaneity has it's time and place."
  • Imagine Spot: A couple where Gib fantasizes about the Sure Thing in a luxurious California beach condo; later, same setting, but with Alison taking her place.
  • Improv: John Cusack did a lot of this in the movie, according to the commentary/trivia tracks. Especially any scene involving beer.
  • Incoming!: How Lance alerts Gib to the beer he, Lance, has just tossed to him. He's also fond of referring to Gib as "Private Gibson."
  • Kavorka Man: Gil's roommate Jimbo is very skilled at getting the ladies, despite being heavyset and rather unkempt.
  • Last-Minute Baby Naming: Played with in the Pillow Pregnancy sequence; when asked what they'll name the baby, obviously neither Alison nor Gib has given it an instant's thought. Alison is thinking Cynthia or Elliot. Gib seems OK with the former, but vehemently disagrees with the latter, believing "Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste." Gib much prefers Nick, who, after all, is "the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car." This leads to the Not In Front of the Lady moment below.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others:
    Professor Taub: (reading Gib's paper) "Thoughts raced through his mind. Did she really want him? What had he done to deserve this bounty? Does God exist? Who invented liquid soap and why?"
  • Lecture as Exposition: Professor Taub's writing seminar and its in-class critiques introduces Gib to Alison, underscores their primary virtues and flaws to each other (and their classmates), exacerbates the conflict between them and ultimately resolves that conflict at the very end of the film.
  • Left Your Lifesaver Behind: When Gib and Allison leave the hotel room, Allison accidentally leaves her all-important planner (which contains all her money) behind.
  • Love Before First Sight: Gib having the hots for (if not being in love with) "the sure thing" just from her photo. Also Girl of My Dreams, though for the realistic reason of him having seen her photo first. And in the end he doesn't end up with her.
  • Meaningful Echo: After Gib rescues Allison from an Attempted Rape (see above), she asks him what made him get on the back of the truck, to which he replies, "I'm the type of guy who likes to live on the edge." Later, when they're at the bus station (see Buses Are for Freaks above), when Allison decides not to take the bus after all and hitches with Gib instead (he couldn't afford a ticket), he asks her why she didn't get on the bus, and she replies, "I'm the type of gal who likes to live on the edge."
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Allison, who didn't, but you could reasonably deduce by what she says about Gib's sleeping habits that she did.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Gib, since Lance told "the sure thing" he was a virgin and probably this too.
  • Mooning: A car of fratboys drives by Gary Cooper and Mary Ann while Gib and Allison are still with them, and they moon the car. Gary and Mary Ann are shocked, and Allison is disgusted, but Gib thinks it's hilarious.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Gib and Allison meet in a creative writing class; their work in and out of class establishes their relationship before they hit the road; and their conflict is resolved in the final scene with any dialogue, the first class after Christmas break.
  • The Movie Buff: A variation - Gary and Mary Ann are into showtunes, singing "The Age of Aquarius" and "Button Up Your Overcoat" when they first pick up Gib and Allison, at least until Gary becomes grumpy because Allison and Gib refuse to join in singing.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The opening credits with a bikini clad Nicolette Sheridan will leave you in no doubt of who or what the Sure Thing is.
  • No Name Given: The "sure thing", played by Nicollette Sheridan.
  • Not in Front of the Kid: Gib has a moment of this when he says "puke" to the kind, motherly woman who's giving them a ride, quickly correcting himself with "Oh, vomit. I'm sorry. Vomit." The nice lady responds with a tolerant nod.
  • Nutritional Nightmare: Gib occasionally breakfasts off of pork rinds and beer. He also begins to expound a theory of junk food that borders on Insane Troll Logic before Alison cuts him off.
  • Official Kiss: At the very end of the movie, atop the same roof Gib took Allison when he was first trying to get with her, confirming that they are a couple.
  • Pillow Pregnancy: Allison fakes one to get a ride.
  • Quest for Sex: Gib travels all the way across the country to get with this girl.
  • Really Gets Around: The Sure Thing. Her promiscuity doesn't come from an Ethical Slut standpoint but from an apparent mixture of Extreme Doormat and extreme emotional neediness. When Gib asks her to sit down she says "Do you want me to?", and as his composition for English class reveals, she needs him to say that he loves her before they can have sex.
  • Road Trip Romance: The plot is based off of the Trope Maker; It Happened One Night.
  • Rule of Pool: While Allison is swimming laps, Gib comes in, asking her to tutor him in English. As she ignores him, Gib's pleading becomes increasingly frenzied, until he finally falls into the pool. Allison looks at him briefly, and then swims around him.
  • Seven Minute Lull: one happens at the big party.
    The Sure Thing: And he said he thinks you might be gay.
    Gib: *Beat* Will you excuse me just one minute? I have to kick the shit out of someone.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Gib isn't a virgin, but his goal in life is to get laid some more.
  • Sexiled: Jimbo does this regularly to Gib, though in his letters to Lance, Gib claims, "My roommate and I have an understanding."
  • Shout-Out: Gary’s bumper sticker proclaims his love for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
  • Theme Naming: Gib and Allison are named after famous writers - Walter "Gib" Gibson is named after Walter B. Gibson (creator of The Shadow), while Allison Bradbury is named after Ray Bradbury.
  • This Is My Side: played straight at first and then later relaxed quite a bit.
  • Thunder = Downpour: See Cue the Rain, above.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Comedic, but neither Gib's high-school best bud Lance nor his college roommate Jimbo are anything but this.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Straight-laced Allison falling for madcap Gib.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Suspiciously similar to It Happened One Night. It's a Road Trip Plot, in The '80s, WITH TEENAGERS!
  • Wild Teen Party: The shindig that Lance is hosting in California, where Gib finally meets The Sure Thing.