The early 80s blockbuster Risky Business is often remembered through a haze of nostalgia, painted as a seminal coming-of-age tale, a cheerful sexual romp, the bawdy tale of a bright-eyed boy (Tom Cruise) who shakes off the shackles of upper-middle-class repression and learns to stop and smell the roses.
At the movie’s beginning, even Joel’s most innocent sexual fantasies devolve into nightmares of being persecuted by his parents, neighbors, and the police. When sexual liberation finally does arrive (in the form of Rebecca De Mornay’s hooker with a heart of gold), it looks like a dream sequence — because in Joel’s tightly inhibited little world, this might as well be a dream.
At first, it’s hard not to sympathize with the kid; he’s not very bright, not at all funny, and frankly sort of charmless, but his parents and friends expect him to perform far beyond his abilities. Surrounded by these unmeetable pressures, Joel is unable to cut loose and be himself.
But here’s the dark truth at the heart of Risky Business: Joel never learns to be himself, he just learns to be a sneakier, more exploitative version of the soulless entrepreneur his parents want him to be. This movie is about learning to embrace the deepest, most avid appetites of the id… and about avoiding the consequences of indulging those appetites.
It’s not biting or clever enough to read as a witty satire; instead, Risky Business plays as a cynical reflection of the grabby, selfish Eighties ethos, the belief that you really can have it all, at any cost to others. Drive the forbidden Porsche — wreck it, even. Just don’t get caught.