"I love you Brian Ryan!" If you don't regularly quote that, or other hilarious phrases from this movie, you weren't a kid in the '90s. My friends and I saw Whatever It Takes more times than we could count, and we all had ridiculous crushes on James Franco. He's so gorgeous! He's so gorgeous that under normal circumstances, this movie wouldn't make sense. However, since it's a teen version of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac, the plot is set in stone. Ironically, my two favorite teen movies from that era are both based off of classic stories-the other being 10 Things I Hate About You. It shows that the stories are timeless and accessible; you just have to tell them in a high school setting and young people will love them.
It might not seem like it, but there's quite a bit of Cyrano that's kept in this adaptation: the lead is in love with a girl who only sees him as a friend and he frequently talks to her across her balcony, the good-looking, shy love interest is named Chris and is an athlete, the letter impersonations culminate in a verbal impersonation with one word that's lost in translation, and there's a scene where the lead rattles off a bunch of insults to show the initial insult wasn't good enough. So before you dismiss this movie as a silly teen flick, you should know that it's also giving its viewers a thorough education of James Franco-I mean, of Cyrano de Bergerac.
In all seriousness, it's going to take quite a few viewings for any teenage girl to understand anything at all about the plot. All we understand the first time around is that James Franco is gorgeous. All we understand the second time around is that Marla Sokoloff is an idiot for having to be convinced to go out with him. Once we realize it's a classic story, we can settle down and appreciate more than just the view. I know he played James Dean in the following year's biopic, but am I the only one out there who thinks he should have starred in "The Richard Widmark Story"?
There are a few changes to the original story that help make it more entertaining for younger folks. Shane West doesn't have any deformity or abnormality besides being unpopular; in high school that is unpleasant, but at least he has a few friends, Aaron Paul and Colin Hanks, who stick by him through thick and thin. The Cyrano character (cleverly named Ryan) isn't immediately in love with the Roxane character (not so cleverly named Maggie); at first, he's infatuated with the popular, shallow Jodi Lyn O'Keefe. Jodi is James Franco's cousin, so the two men make a deal to help each other win their corresponding crushes. While the Cyrano plot is maintained and Shane writes poetry and gives romantic dialogue for Franco to memorize, Franco is modern and tells Shane that he should be mean and critical to gain Jodi's attention.
I've watched this movie for the past twenty years; I know it extremely well. I can't imagine watching it for the first time today, but to me, it's still as hilarious as it was twenty years ago. Young kids today might not like it as much, since in only one scene is a cell phone present and it's used to show how rude Jodi is for talking on the phone during a date. Those of us who remember life before cell phones will still find it accessible. It's funny and unexpected, and even though I always wish for a different ending, it's still sweet and romantic. So ladies, if it's been a while since you've seen Whatever It Takes-and by that, I mean more than a year-schedule a girls' night and pop in your VHS copy. If you can't find it, buy a DVD like I did. You can try to play the take-a-shot-every-time-you-want-to-kiss-James-Franco drinking game, but none of my friends have ever made it past the first twenty minutes without getting sick or passing out.
DLM Warning: If you suffer from vertigo or dizzy spells, like my mom does, this movie might not be your friend. On the double date, they go to a carnival and the spinning rides will make you sick. Also, at the very end, there's a closeup of the school statue and the camera spins in a circle. In other words, "Don't Look, Mom!"