Theme Song: “Don’t Tell Her It’s Me,” written by David Batteau and Andre Fischer, performed by Michael Ruff. No further discussion needed.
I didn’t upload that one so you should listen to “Hairless Guttenbergs” by Bullyhuff instead. It makes a better theme song.
Interesting Dated References: It being socially acceptable to offer a guest a cup of coffee and then make instant coffee in a microwave; Shelley Long.
Best Line: Said by woman — “I just want a great big hole to open up and swallow me.”
Social Context: The late-80s and early-90s were a weird time for romantic comedies mainly because the genre had evolved into two sects. There was the more adult-oriented, mature version (When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman) and then there was the more immature, fantasy-based version that seemed specifically aimed at teenage girls (Mannequin, Can’t Buy Me Love, Her Alibi, Dream A Little Dream). The latter type of romantic comedy is a weird sub-genre that is widely ignored, but still fondly remembered. The hallmarks of this genre seem to be a ridiculous love-based storyline, some type of magical mix-up or misunderstanding, and an almost G-rated sense of humor. Smut, nudity, and the real world had no place in this genre. Don’t Tell Her It’s Me is one of these films. This super-safe teenage version of romantic comedy died out a few years into the 90s with the one-two punch of Singles and (fittingly)Reality Bites. Even when the genre did make brief reappearances in the late 90s (She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You) the movies were now imbued with 90s cynicism and an almost R-rated sense of humor.
Summary: The fact that Steve Guttenberg went from the height of stardom to being totally out of the public eye in such a short span really speaks to the fickle nature of Hollywood and moviegoers in general.
In Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, Guttenberg plays a recently cancer-free, chronically-depress, fat-assed, freelance illustrator named Gus. His sister Lizzie (Shelley Long) is a romance novelist who feels sorry for her miserable brother.
After meeting Emily (Jamie Gertz) at a romance writers convention (a place we should all be hanging out at), Lizzie makes it her mission to set up a dinner date between Emily and her brother.
But Emily is a little superficial and during a food-induced allergic hallucination sees Gus like this. The next day we learn Emily is also sort of dating her boss, Kyle MacLachlan.
He must be a cool boss, though, because he has a N.A.R.C. arcade machine in his cool office. So Emily makes it clear to Lizzie she’s not interested in Gus. This convinces Lizzie that all modern women are totally superficial and self absorbed, so she sets about giving the doughy Gus a makeover inside and out.
Gus winds up in shape in the span of a few days. They give him a new name (Lobo), a motorcycle, the hair of Billy Ray Cyrus in 1990, a New Zealand accent, and send him out to try to fornicate with Emily.
After breaking up a gas station robbery in front of Emily, “Lobo” acts all tough and masculine and Emily immediately begins to fall for him because she is apparently very shallow and into huge fucking mullets and motorcycles.
Then there’s a montage date that includes a stop at Lizzie’s house where the family all have to act like they don’t know “Lobo” is actually Gus. After some more hijinks, Lobo/Gus (Lobogus?) decides he has to go confess to Emily.
Having broken things off with Emily, Kyle MacLachlan leaves right as Lobogus arrives. Interestingly, MacLachlan’s new girlfriend who is waiting in the car is Madchen Amick, both of whom were on Twin Peaks that same year.
Instead of immediately confessing to Emily, Lobogus takes the high road and opts to sleep with her. Hopefully he was able to maintain his phony New Zealand accent while he has having (assumedly) unprotected sex.
In the morning he confesses and she gets super pissed off and kicks him out, only to later realize she loves the real Gus. After chasing him down at the airport and getting sprayed with mud, Emily finds him and professes her love, then they kiss. Are you totally surprised? Are you totally bored?
Poster and Box Art: Despite the pretty standard wacky-rom-com plot and a solid cast of stars who were current-ish in 1990, they must have had a hard time with the marketing of Don’t Tell Her It’s Me. I found at least 4 different theatrical poster designs.
The image on the left features one of the illustrations Robert Ariail did for the film. These appear in the opening credits and whenever we see Guttenberg’s character drawing. I also found a bunch of foreign versions, but they were all pretty much variation on the above designs.
Availability: Don’t Tell Her It’s Me has been released on DVD as The Boyfriend School (the same name of the book on which it was based) to the fanfare of women everywhere. It’s worth noting the Betamax tape I have is from 1991, which means it may be one of the last commercially available Betamax tapes around.