Originally published on Frags and Beer, October 7, 2020
Our original plan was to watch Space Camp with a variation of a Tang screwdriver (we were going to call it a NASA Screwdriver). Should have known, when Tang was so hard to find, something wasn’t going right. No one…not one of the many streaming services we have had Space Camp available. So, we moved on to the next one on our list, a favorite of mine as a kid, The Outsiders.
The Outsiders is a 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film based on a book of the same name written by S.E. Hinton. The story, set in 1960s Oklahoma, follows a gang of young, tough teenagers called Greasers, and their rivalry with the local well-off kids they call Socs (pronounced like soashes). The story takes a look at class struggles and the pressures of society on youth. It explores the tragedies of growing up without parents, or with parents who are absent, or always fighting. It’s a dark movie about the loss of innocence, but it does give you some flickering light to hold onto in Pony Boy (C. Thomas Howell) and his friendship with Johnny (Ralph Macchio).
This movie is a literal who’s who of Hollywood royalty before they were household names. Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Mat Dillon, Tom Cruise, Emilio Esteves, Rob Lowe, and a few others make up the cast and all went on to be big stars throughout the 80s and 90s. Some are huge today, and seeing them greased up, running around like a bunch of hooligans, and eating an entire piece of chocolate cake with their bare hands (Cruise) was a lot of fun. That said, they weren’t all that great back then. Swayze and Howell were probably the top performers in the film, followed closely by Macchio and Esteves, but I can’t chalk it all up to inexperience. I felt like the script was lacking, and for a Coppola film it just felt off. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve a place among our list of classics, but you do have to give it some slack.
The key plot to the movie revolves around Pony Boy and Johnny, trapped in a lifestyle they don’t necessarily want. Johnny’s family life isn’t good at all, so he seeks out a family in his friends. Pony is too kind-hearted for some of what goes on with his gang of friends, but being raised by his brothers who are also greasers, he doesn’t have many other choices. They’re both trying to escape the hand that life dealt them, but come to realize that their family, despite its flaws, has their backs. They may not like where they are in life, but they both realize they’re still young and have a time to change things. Even at the last, Johnny says he hasn’t done everything he wants to do. They both know that they can become something more by the end of it.
I first saw this movie in Junior High, I think. In an English class. Probably in lieu of reading the book, which happened a lot. That’s probably a good thing because I wasn’t much of a reader until later in High School so I doubt I would have appreciated the novel. It’s where I got my love for Robert Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold can Stay’, before I was into poetry. It’s probably why I have such fond memories of the movie and it gets a lot of slack now for me. That’s not to say it’s bad, or not worth the time, and I shudder to think of how awful a remake would be. I have since gone on to read the book in the last couple of years and I’m glad I did. I’m glad I read it at a time where I have the patience, and insight to appreciate it more.
The movie is family friendly, and a great one for teenagers on up. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend giving it a shot. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, give it another look. Show it to your kids.