Sunday, August 13, 2017

Growing Pains and Growing Up

"Not all the obstacles that can trip you up are on this base. Let me tell you something about the local girls. Ever since there's been a base here, there's been what you'd call the Puget Sound Debs. The poor girls come across the sound on the ferry every weekend with just one thing in mind, and that's to marry themselves a naval aviator. A Puget Deb will tell you, 'Don't you worry about contraceptives. I've got that all taken care of.' Don't believe it, sweet pea. A Puget Deb will do anything and say anything to trap you. I know this sounds silly, especially in this so–called modern age, but you scuzzy college pukes should watch out because they're out there, and you, sweet peas, are the answer to their dream!"

Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.)

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote this about "An Officer and a Gentleman," which premiered on this day in 1982:
"'An Officer and a Gentleman' is the best movie about love that I've seen in a long time. Maybe that's because it's not about 'love' as a Hollywood concept, but about love as growth as learning to accept other people for who and what they are."

Perhaps Ebert was right about that. I don't know.

All I know is how I felt about it when I saw it for the first time. I thought it was overly melodramatic. I thought it was probably a pretty accurate portrayal of the behavior of some single women in military base towns — but probably an exaggeration as well.

And loaded with cliches. So how come Ebert said it was "the best movie about love that I've seen in a long time"?

Perhaps I, like the pilot candidates, simply refused to believe a woman could be that conniving. I was young and naïve, and perhaps I was prone to give women the benefits of more doubts than they deserved. (The flip side of that is that there are guys who give women the benefits of too few doubts.)

I'm older now, though, and I have had experiences that I hadn't had when I first saw "An Officer and a Gentleman," and I have concluded, in hindsight, that it was better — and probably a lot more accurate — than I originally thought. At the very least, it was entertaining.

And, OK, it was kinda schmaltzy, too. But I suppose that is inevitable when the subject is growing pains and growing up. It is a universal experience, as old as human life. Is there anything new left to say about it — except that, like death, it is a personal experience and different for everyone?

Only the circumstances are different, really — and the times when these profound changes occur. For some it happens in their teens. Others are in their 20s. In rare cases, it is later.

At this point, I guess I am more inclined to give the story the benefit of the doubt. People? Not so much.

(Perhaps, as the announcer in "A League of Their Own" said, "I have seen enough to know I have seen too much.")

Anyway ...

I would say the young men who were the focus of the story — Richard Gere and David Keith — were inclined to put women on a pedestal, which probably made it easier for Puget Sound Debs, as they were called in the movie, to achieve their objective.

That changed.

The change was tragic, brought about by Keith. His character withdrew from the pilot training program, and his girlfriend broke up with him. Still believing it was the real thing, he proposed to her, but she refused. "I don't want to marry you," she told him. "I really like you, and we've had ourselves some really great times, but I thought you understood. I want to marry a pilot. I want to live my life overseas — the wife of an aviator."

Keith's character hanged himself.

But it was the real thing for Gere and his girlfriend, Debra Winger. Things were rocky near the end of the movie, but, ultimately, in a big–screen moment that has been parodied frequently in the intervening years, Gere literally swept Winger off her feet at the factory where she worked and carried her off.

Louis Gossett Jr., in the role of Sgt. Foley, became the first black actor to win Best Supporting Actor. "An Officer and a Gentleman" received five other nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Winger, and won for Best Original Song ("Up Where We Belong").