Overlooked & Underseen: The Rachel Papers (1989)
For this column, I generally try to make a list of movies I’m going to watch for the upcoming month. It’s not necessarily set in stone as I might change the order depending on mood or an upcoming milestone of a movie, etc. I remembered The Rachel Papers as something I enjoyed in the past and thought I’d take a revisit. While it does have some issues, I still think it’s worthy of a watch, if for nothing else than its wonderful supporting cast.
Based upon Martin Amis’ first novel of the same name, The Rachel Papers is about Charles Highway (Dexter Fletcher), a self-assured 19 year old who’s whole aim in life is to get laid and to record all the details on his computer. He’s made a program where he puts down all his conquests and techniques. Basically, he’s a bit of a scumbag, really. He changes his personality, dress, room décor, etc. based on the woman he’s trying to have sex with. Yeah, one of those types.
He and his friend (Jared Harris) crash a birthday party and Charles has the “slow-motion-I-just-saw-the-girl-of-my-dreams” moment when he spies Rachel (Ione Skye) across the room. Charles tries to talk to her but, of course, she shuts him down. From there, he makes it his mission to find out all about her. After finding out where she works, Charles decides he’s going to enroll in their tutoring programs to help him with entrance exams to get into Oxford. Never mind that he hadn’t planned on going to Oxford. What to one person is a reconnoiter, to another one, it is stalking. Naturally, she has a boyfriend, DeForest (played by James Spader as only James Spader could in the 80s). DeForset is handsome and rich and Charles is, well, not.
Of course, Charles manages to worm his way into Rachel’s life, making trouble for her with both DeForest and her mother. Eventually, she comes to live with Charles for a couple of weeks. What starts out as sex 24/7 ends up with Charles becoming bored and annoyed with Rachel. He is relieved when the two weeks are up and she goes back home. He does something stupid nearly the minute after she drives away in a cab and he screws up their relationship for good.
I don’t remember this being quite as problematic back when I originally watched this in the early 90s. I guess what I thought was charming back when I was young now seems really creepy. When James Spader comes across as the good guy in a movie where he’s not the “hero”, you know something amiss.
As mentioned above, the supporting cast in this picture are all great; Jonathan Pryce, Michael Gabon, Leslie Sharp, Jared Harris, and Shirley Anne Field. Blink and you’ll miss Gina McKee and Eric Stoltz. Dexter Fletcher is always good and Ione Skye, well, she’s pretty much the same character in every movie.
When it comes to teen movies from the 1980s, there’s really no shortage, but it is interesting to see one made by someone not named John Hughes. The Rachel Papers is available on DVD via MGM.