Top Gun may have made Tom Cruise a superstar but Risky Business made him Tom Cruise. The 1983 film is an artifact of its era as well as a commentary upon it, a sex comedy as social satire that anticipates the culture soon to be defined in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. I write about the film for the Turner Classic Movies website.
The teen sex comedy was dominant when Risky Business opened in 1983 in the wake of Porky’s (1982) and scores of other lowbrow works where boys lost their virginity to hot girls and teen audiences waded through clumsy slapstick gags and mistaken identity plots for titillating displays of young naked bodies. One could argue that Risky Business is an art movie version of the teen sex comedy. It is, after all, about a good looking, wealthy but naïve high school virgin (Tom Cruise) who is ushered into manhood by a seductive young woman (Rebecca De Mornay) while his parents are out of town. Cruise’s Joel is a Chicago rich kid on the lake and De Mornay’s Lana is a tough, gorgeous young prostitute (“what every white boy off the lake wants,” promises another professional) with a dangerous streak and a crazy idea: “If we ever got our friends together, we’d make a fortune.” It’s sexy, smart and funny, but also stylish and filled with social satire and commentary on the culture of money. “This was the Reagan years, it was all about money,” explained writer/director Paul Brickman in an interview years later. Under the sexual fantasies is an anxiety about sex and success (which are hopelessly intertwined in Joel’s dreams) and a satirical portrait of capitalist enterprise that essentially blurs the line between entrepreneurship and prostitution.
Read the complete feature here. It plays on Thursday, July 15 on Turner Classic Movies. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray.