Mrs. Supermarket’s iPod knows when I’m in the car. It’s the only explanation. As soon as I get in, it’s going to play a couple of songs. The same songs. Every single time. Some of them, like the Undertones’ “Let’s Talk About Girls” are aggressively annoying, but some of them I absolutely love, like the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back.” The original is an excellent song, despite (or perhaps because of) being completely ridiculous. Make a man sing the same lyrics to a hyped up punk version and suddenly it’s gold. It’s been on my mind lately because, as I said, as soon as I get into Mrs. Supermarket’s car, it’s only a matter of time before Spike Slawson’s rebel whine kicks in with “He went away, and you hung around, bothered me every night…” So I started thinking of 1993’s My Boyfriend’s Back, a movie I dimly remembered enjoying when I randomly caught it on cable. What the hell, I decided, let’s see if this thing holds up or is more evidence of my questionable taste during my teen years.
In a very real way, movies are the lovechild of director and producer. The odder the pair, the more idiosyncratic the film an it would be difficult to assemble a more unlikely group than the two men whose sweaty wrinkled passion produced My Boyfriend’s Back. Producer Sean S. Cunningham might not have invented the slasher genre, but Friday the 13th (which he also directed) did more to define the era of mainstream ‘80s horror than many other better films. The director dad is Bob Balaban, part of Christopher Guest’s stable of terrific comic actors. Balaban has a lively career in directing, mostly television. There’s really only one kind of movie they could make together: a deadpan (no pun intended) comedy with buckets of gore.
Johnny (Andrew Lowery, veteran of Yakmala favorite The Color of Night) loves Missy with one of those lifetime crushes that seem to only exist in fiction. His phenomenally stupid plan to woo Missy involves faking the armed robbery of the convenience store in which she works, then “saving” her. Things predictably go awry, and Johnny gets shot through the heart to underscore the ironic symbolism of the whole thing. And also because a head shot would end the scene. With his dying breath, he asks Missy out, and because she’s a generally decent person, says yes. Had she known what sort of movie this was, she might have been a little more hesitant. Johnny comes back from the dead to keep the date.
Normally, this would be where shit gets real. We’d be headed for a level of creepiness that Zach Snyder barely conceives of in his wildest fantasies. But no, this is an extremely chaste film, so other than an early sex joke, Johnny mostly just wants to go to the prom with the love of his life. What about the idyllic ‘50s inspired suburb where Johnny lives? Don’t they have a problem with a zombie wandering around? Sure they do, but in a really understated way. I mean, nobody wants a walking corpse in the neighborhood dropping property values, but being rude about it is no solution. Things get a little worse when Johnny discovers that he is still rotting and must consume human flesh to stay intact enough to dance with Missy without falling into little Johnny-chunks, but no one loses the veneer of Eisenhower-era politeness. Even while brandishing torches and shotguns.
The film treats zombies like any other ethnic minority only the stereotypes are mostly true. In that they are cannibalistic creatures risen from the grave. But that doesn’t mean they have to. Since zombies still have free will, it’s up to the individual walker if he wants to chow down on long pig. The free will/fate debate takes a sharp turn near the end, when Johnny winds up before St. Peter (played by the evil British teacher from Back to School) who reveals that Johnny wasn’t supposed to die. Everything is preordained in the giant book Pete keeps on his judge bench, but that doesn’t mean mistakes are unknown. So there is free will, but not one hundred percent of it. Granted, it’s used as a dodge, so that a comedy about a dead guy will have a happy ending, but it does raise an interesting point.
Free will cannot exist in the same universe as a being that is both omnipotent and omniscient. If a being is truly omniscient, it will have foreseen everything that will happen, and if it is omnipotent, it will create the outcome it desires. Free will implies that a creature can act in any way it chooses, but if every possible outcome is seen and prepared, can there truly be free will? Could a human being ever truly do something that was against the being’s wishes? Of course not, since the very act of making the choice falls into the system that the being has devised. If there were a way to break the system itself, then free will comes back into play, but no omnipotent being would create a breakable system. Not that a feather-light comedy like My Boyfriend’s Back is concerned with any of that. The movie is about intolerance, interracial dating, and the occasional act of cannibalism.
As I said, I last saw this movie something like fifteen years ago, and remembered liking it. What I hadn’t remembered was the cast. Edward Hermann (Max from The Lost Boys) plays Johnny’s button-down and image-obsessed dad. Buck and Chuck (seriously), Johnny’s romantic rival and his possibly mentally challenged sidekick are Matthew Fox and a young man credited as Phillip Hoffman. Yes, one of the greatest character actors of his generation: Phillip Seymour “I Shit Oscar Nods” Hoffman. Then you have Paul Dooley as Chuck’s dad Big Chuck, Austin Pendleton as harried Doc Bronson, and even a single scene for a young Matthew McConaughey to round out a cast of ringers.
My Boyfriend’s Back is so light as to be practically nonexistent. No one will ever mistake it for a lost classic. It’s a one-joke movie, but you have to admit: it’s a pretty funny joke.