I know he's a good-looking guy NOW, but man this makes me chuckle. Only people who grew up in the '80s as ravenous movie freaks will see where I'm going with this, but ... Patrick Dempsey is now a sex symbol, thanks entirely to his work (and his look) on a very popular medical series that I've never seen. (I think it's called Boston Elsewhere E/R Mercy Anatomy Clinic.)
Before we continue, please know that this is not any sort of attack on Mr. Dempsey. Matter of fact, he's one of those actors I feel I kinda "grew up with," not unlike John Cusack, Robert Downey Jr., and Johnny Depp. (Yes, my generation produced talented actors. Deal with it.) On top of the fact that I enjoy Dempsey's on-screen antics, the guy now represents the ultimate geeky guy dream: to struggle and suffer through our awkward teen years, completely awash in nerdliness, only to pop up at the high school reunion with bone structure and a hairline that women coo over. Patrick Dempsey is, in every way, the ugly duckling come to life.
A quick trip back to the 1980s: Mr. Dempsey makes his debut in the generally witless Heaven Help Us; he pops up in Meatballs 3; he plays the Robert Romanus role in the sitcom version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Typical young actor work. Then he gets the lead role in In the Mood, a fact-based period piece comedy about a young man who successfully wooed several older ladies. (Cute flick, actually.) That movie led to the two we're here to talk about: Can't Buy Me Love (1987) and Loverboy (1989).
In the former, Dempsey plays a sweet but very awkward nerd who replaces a popular girl's mom's expensive blouse in exchange for her willingness to pose as his girlfriend. (A telescope and Seth Green are also involved, but it's been a while.) The movie, easily the best film Steve Rash has ever directed, is actually quite good, thanks mainly to Dempsey and his co-stars, in addition to a screenplay that actually works. (The flick nails "teen conformity" to the wall rather well, if you ask me.) But the key here is this: Dempsey's Ronald Miller is a big, fat nerd. The flick doesn't work otherwise.
In Loverboy, it's also important that Dempsey play geeky, because the premise is this: he's a delivery boy who unleashes sexual favors upon his customers when the phrase "extra anchovies" is mentioned. If the delivery guy was a muscular stud, we have very little in the way of comedy, so Dempsey's incredulous, befuddled performance is actually rather excellent. Indeed the whole flick (which was written and directed by women, coolly enough) is better than the premise implies. Plus it's loaded with folks like Dylan Walsh, Robert Picardo, Carrie Fisher, and Robert Ginty.
And then ... Mr. Dempsey halfway vanished. He did Run and Mobsters in 1991, and then With Honors and Outbreak a few years later. (Long pause.) I also remember going "Hey, look!" when he showed up in Scream 3, and I definitely remember wondering what the hell he was doing in Sweet Home Alabama.
Next thing I know ... he's on the cover of People Magazine is world's ultra-dreamiest TV doctor! Ha! That nerd I went to (movie) high school with! Obviously I was very pleased to see Dempsey making a comeback, as many '80s actors seem to do these days, and I highly enjoyed his work as the male lead in Disney's Enchanted...
... but to me he'll always be the nerd who had to pay for a fake girlfriend before turning into an anchovy gigolo.