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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Back to the 80s: ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’

But everything has a price
Alyssa Branum
Movies of the 80s often feature nerds desperate for popularity and in the movie “Can’t Buy Me Love” Patrick Dempseys character Ronald, takes desperate to unbelievable heights. (Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures, Graphic created in Canva by Alyssa Branum)

In another predictable film of a nerd desperate for popularity, director Steve Rash, captures the fine line between bribery and romance in the 1987 film, “Can’t Buy Me Love”

PEOPLE’s 2023 sexiest man alive Patrick Dempsey plays the nerdy character Ronald Miller alongside Amanda Peterson, who plays popular cheerleader Cindy Mancini in a love trope of damsel in distress. 


Following Ronald’s desperate attempts to fit in, the film observes Cindy as she takes Ronald from a total outcast to a bitchin’ hunk. In the beginning, this unlikely pair is brought together after Ronald pays Cindy $1,000 to be his girlfriend. 

After spilling wine on her mother’s expensive suede suit and in a pinch for cash, Cindy agrees to go along Ronald’s pleas. As the plot continues Cindy takes Ronald’s nerdy physique to new heights with a complete makeover. 

RELATED: Back to the 80s: ‘Teen Wolf’

He hopes that by association Cindy’s popularity will rub off on him and make him more popular than he could have ever imagined. 

As their relationship grows in and outside of pretend, the two grow closer and begin to reveal new layers to themselves, such as Cindy’s love for poetry and Ronald’s love of astronomy. 

Like all pretend film relationships, the two soon catch feelings and their relationship takes a very predictable turn.

Cindy and Ronald refuse to admit that anything besides a platonic friendship remains, but as the two share an intense moment while washing Cindy’s car feelings of vulnerability begin to spark. 

Although, both begin to realize their feelings are more than just their proposed deal, a fear of rejection is shared and both hide their complicated emotions.  

Just like in modern and classic films such as “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Pretty Woman” the main characters catch feelings in the midst of their agreement and things grow even more complicated. 

In “Can’t Buy Me Love” the film’s complication arises in the climax of the film, when Ronald is seen reciting a poem Cindy shared with him, to his date Iris in the school bathroom. After catching Ronald, Cindy goes to the party in a fit of rage to expose the truth of their pretend relationship.

Once, the popular crew catches wind of the truth, he is ostracized back to being the outcast he always was and things return to normal for the geeky lawn-mowing Ronald. 

For an 80s movie this film was a lot easier to foresee and anticipate, as the “fake dating” love trope is one Hollywood continues to explore decade after decade. This film wasn’t the first of its time, but definitely paved the way for more modern films. 


Ronald (Patrick Dempsey) and Cindy (Amanda Peterson) sitting together at school to make people believe they are dating. To make their relationship more believable Cindy gives Ronald a traditional 80s make-over, to help make him more popular. (Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures)

The concept of a man paying a woman or striking a deal to pretend to date is not a new theme. It’s one that every romance-novel obsessed reader has explored and re-discovered again. 

A modern film that explores this theme in a new and contemporary light is “To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, which features a young love-struck girl in love with her older-sister’s boyfriend. To save her the embarrassment she strikes a deal to pretend to date the popular lacrosse player at school. 

This theme although a happy and feel good idea is one that in 2024, doesn’t seem to sit well. Paying someone to love you and pretend in many ways feels morally and ethically wrong. 

Influencing younger audiences to pay for affection and love is a little controversial, but “Can’t Buy Me Love” speaks to the power of connection and honesty in love. 

Cindy and Ronald portray two young and naive kids struggling to find their foot in life and their love story truly displays the difficulties and diversities of young love. 

Ronald (Patrick Dempsey) and Cindy (Amanda Peterson) joking around together as they start to build their pretend relationship. (Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures)

The highlight of this film is watching young Dempsey wear his black cowboy hat and ride around on his lawn tractor. His circular nerd glasses and dark black cowboy hat make an interesting combination, but fans can’t help but admire his memorable blue eyes.

His young age and impressionable acting is seen with a raw intensity as he plays the goofy and manipulative nerd Ronald. Dempsey portrays the character who although does some very questionable things, like bribing Cindy into being his fake girlfriend and passing off her poems as his own, makes audiences swoon for his curly hair and acting.

As one of Dempsey’s first roles, he does an amazing job portraying a hopeless nerd with a desire for love and popularity. A character he hasn’t often played since. 

“Can’t Buy Me Love” is a film that speaks to the highlighted themes of a nerd’s desire for popularity and the desperation for young-adults to fit in with a highlight on love is a theme that outside of this film, directors like John Hughes and Richard Donner follow too. 

This 80s cult classic, outside its obscene concept and characters, is one highly recommended and remembered for the sweet actors and their admiring work in an overplayed love trope, brought to life with 80s humor and passion.

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About the Contributor
Katelyn Marano
Katelyn Marano, Copy Editor
(she/her) Katelyn Marano is a graduating senior with a major in journalism and a minor in English. She is currently in her second semester here at The State Hornet and is the copy editor for the spring 2024 semester. Katelyn enjoys reading and writing, and hope to take her degree into book publishing.
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  • TLBoxMar 2, 2024 at 5:56 am

    Not one word about Amanda Peterson’s performance? Every guy across the US had a crush on her after this came out. Ultra talented, natural beauty, and a likeability factor thru the roof she is very missed…and should’ve had a much much bigger career. Damn the Hollywood machine and what it does to its young!