Crush-a-Thon: The Rachel Papers

Our next guest blogger in the Jennifer Connelly Memorial Crush-a-Thon is Pat McDonnell of 100 Years of Movies. One day Pat realized that he was spending way too much time watching new releases, which meant his knowledge of the classics was lacking. So now he shares his adventures in classic film at his blog. Now then, his crush…well, the two of us may have to duke it out over this one, as I admit she was a crush of mine as well. I mean, who didn’t want to be John Cussack, outside her window, with boom box overhead? Here’s Miss Ione Skye in 1989’s “The Rachel Papers.”

Life is full of clarifying moments.

Forgotten Films recently asked me (and several others) to write up a piece on our first movie crush. I honestly don’t remember precisely who was my first. I remember Lea Thompson in “Back to the Future.” Kerri Green in “The Goonies” and “Lucas.” Elizabeth Shue in “Adventures in Babysitting.” Meredith Salenger in “Dream a Little Dream.” That period when you’re finishing grade school and entering high school is a ridiculously impressionable time and I remember being captivated by most girls who walked across the screen.

One that always stuck with me was Ione Skye. Most people remember her from “Say Anything”… as the object of John Cusack’s desire. One smile from her and you totally get why Cusack would iconically stand outside her window, boombox raised in the air and Peter Gabriel blaring, to woo her.

But that’s not the film I want to talk about. The one that stuck with me was “The Rachel Papers,” released the same year as “Say Anything”…, but remembered by no one.

In truth, I remembered little from the film myself. I was in high school and really had two memories about it:

1. There was a boy who was pursuing Ione Skye and kept getting rejected.
2. Ione Skye got naked.

Now, for a high school kid with an HBO subscription in his room, nudity on screen wasn’t really that unusual. So why did this film and Ione Skye in particular stick with me? A rewatch was in order.

It turns out, my memory of the film was basically correct. “The Rachel Papers” follows Charlie Highway (played by Dexter Fletcher), a geeky British high school kid who seemed to have women figured out. He uses his computer to catalog not just his conquests, but his techniques. He’s a guy who seems to have figured out the magic formula for women.

As an awkward, skinny, hormones-raging nerd myself, it’s pretty obvious why this set up would be appealing. Charlie’s basically thinks he’s Ferris Bueller, except instead of using his powers to screw around, he devotes his energies to women.

Early in the film he sets his sights on Rachel, played by Skye. Rachel is an American in London who is impenetrable to Charlie. She has a boyfriend. She has a complicated home life. She seems intrigued by Charlie, but just when they get close, something pulls them apart.

Of course, once they get together, they consummate their relationship. Often. And as Charlie grows accustomed to Rachel, he grows bored with her. When the first opportunity comes to cheat, he immediately takes the opportunity and gets caught doing it, ending his relationship for good despite a failed attempt to rekindle it.

Skye is every bit as beautiful as I remember, but what’s odd is I like her better in this before she ends up with Charlie (and begins disrobing). She carries an air of mystery about her that evaporates as soon as she moves in with Charlie. She’s more attractive being pursued than when she’s caught. The moment she picks Charlie all of the energy seems to go out of both her and the movie.

It’s also slightly embarrassing to think I identified with Charlie at all as a teenager. Watching it today, it’s clear that, while this is his story, he’s a self-centered, sex-obsessed moron whose confidence springs from a foundation of self-delusion. The only solace I take watching it today is that though I may have identified with Charlie, I never even attempted to pursue any path he takes. Living vicariously through Charlie’s conquests was plenty.

Beyond Skye and Fletcher, the cast is amazing in a “I cannot believe he was in this!” kind of way. James Spader plays Rachel’s boyfriend as basically the same character he was in “Pretty in Pink.” Jonathan Pryce is unrecognizable as Charlie’s brother-in-law. Jared Harris (from Mad Men) appears as Charlie’s best friend. And Michael Gambon has a brief but pivotal role at the end of the film.

As a movie, this is frankly not very good. Charlie is such a loathsome character that you take no pleasure in following his journey. The obstacles placed before his relationship with Rachel are random and unexplained. And when they finally get together? It’s not romantic; it’s icky. The supporting cast is great (especially Pryce), but you aren’t with them for 90 percent of the film.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the teenage me would have crushed on Ione Skye in “The Rachel Papers.” She is drop dead gorgeous and seemingly unattainable, until a guy who could have been me wins her and beds her. For a boy fresh out of puberty, this is a fantasy fulfilled and Skye is the perfect object of desire.

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4 thoughts on “Crush-a-Thon: The Rachel Papers

  1. Got to agree that Ione Skye is drop dead gorgeous and she was my favourite teen babe crush in the 80’s. Jennifer Connelly was also gorgeous and my number 1 crush but that changed when I laid eyes on Ione swoon 🙂

  2. Me as well. Ione and Jennifer are both drop dead gorgeous and natural looking at the same time. It was hard to choose between em tbh

  3. Just discovered this review and I quite enjoyed it. I remember seeing THE RACHEL PAPERS at an impressionable age and being quite taken with Ione Skye in it. She was also really good in the RIVER’S EDGE but in this one she really gets to do her thing. I’d be curious to watch this movie again to see if I have the same reaction you did. I get the feeling that it probably hasn’t aged too well.

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