When looking for trends in history the more distance you have from a place the better able you are to see what was going on in the culture. What I can see very vividly now is a generation, the Baby Boomer, who refused to put away childish thing staying in power, one of the ways to keep themselves young was to make sure that no one born after them was allowed to grow up. This has manifested in many ways, from a near pathological insistence that they ‘changed the world’ and the constant referencing of events like The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and the single handed ending of the war in Vietnam as proof that they have been the saviors of the world…….argh, don’t’ get me started on all of that..
All this is to say that by the late 80s with the first wave of generation Xers graduating from high school and college and entering the work force there were a spat of films (ok, maybe only 2 that I know of) and one TV show that featured these Gen X kids being seen as so young and young looking that they were able to pass as high school students. On TV it was 21 Jump Street, on film it was Hiding Out (see the review of the soundtrack to that film later this week) and today’s forgotten film, Plain Clothes.
Set in Seattle, Plain Clothes is the story of cop Nick Dunbar, a young officer who frustrated at being assigned again and again to details because of his young looks. When his brother is implicated in the murder of a teacher, he looses his temper and get’s suspended. He takes his suspension time to enroll in school and try and clear his brother’s name. The film is part look at how crazy American High Schools are in 1988, part who-done-it, and part 80s Romantic comedy. There is also a plot about the Baby Boomer Teachers worry about their pensions (20 years on this part resonates even more than I did then), and of course Nick falls for a young teacher who thinks he is a student, when they are really about the same age.
I am not going to make the case that it’s a great film, it existents now as a time capsule of the time and place. There are a number of very funny lines and a couple of scenes that raise the film above the level of trash. The cast is solid and there are noteworthy performances by George Wendt and Seymour Cassel. Also watch for the moments with Abe Vigoda, Harry Shearer, and the PA announcements from Robert Stack.
Plain Clothes is not out on DVD as of this writing, it is on Netflix instant if you want to check it out. I do think that someone is missing an opportunity not packaging it as a double disc with the Jon Cryer flick Hiding Out.
Up Next: The Robert Altman not classic, but I love it anyway for my own reasons…. O.C. & Stiggs.
More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog Here