Starring Robert Sean Leonard, Evan Mirand, Rene Auberjonois, Cheryl Pollak, and David Warner
My rating: ★★ 1/2 stars
Amiable and occasionally clever teen comedy.
In no way is this film a masterpiece. Nor could it be classified as a good film in any serious discussion of the art form. At best, it’s passable. But if one were to adopt an axiology based on how likeable a film is, My Best Friend Is a Vampire would rate higher than average.
After a midnight rendezvous with a sexy, mysterious (and rather toothy) woman, Houston teen Jeremy Capello (Robert Sean Leonard) soon notices a few changes. Dogs howl outside his window. He’s lost his appetite for food, particularly pizza with garlic. His bathroom mirror doesn’t work. An odd man follows him around.
Soon, the man introduces himself as Modoc (Rene Auberjonois), and he’s Jeremy’s advisor, sort of like a vampire guidance counselor. He tells Jeremy that he is now a vampire and gives him a handbook to read, Vampirism: A Practical Guide to an Alternative Lifestyle.
The words “Alternative Lifestyle” in the handbook title aren’t an accidental choice. The movie comes off a bit like a coming out story. The awkward moment where Jeremy reveals his new nature to his best friend Ralph (Evan Mirand) could easily play out with “gay” replacing “vampire.” Ralph’s reaction, his fear that Jeremy will want his blood, would also work perfectly if “body” replaced “blood.” Modoc’s speech to Jeremy about being “different” is just the kind of pep talk a counselor might give a gay youth.
In fact, Jeremy’s parents (Fannie Flagg, Kenneth Kimmins), noticing their son’s change in behavior, leap to the erroneous conclusion that he’s gay. This misunderstanding has all the depth of a typical episode of Three’s Company, but it brings a few laughs. That this subplot never veers into the offensive is an accomplishment for a film made in 1987.
Jeremy is not, however, gay. The subplot of Jeremy romancing band geek Darla Blake (Cheryl Pollak) is the most tedious part of the movie. The movie makes it clear that Darla is not a catch and, with the way Pollak plays her, she’s not particularly likeable. So, I have to wonder what Jeremy sees in her, why he expends so much energy to get her to go out with him, and, after blowing the first date by vamping out and leaving her stranded by the side of the road so as not to bite her, to get her to give him a second chance.
Complicating matters are obsessive vampire hunter Professor McCarthy (David Warner) and his dim-witted sidekick, who have confused Ralph for Jeremy. The confusion leads to situations that are manic and kinetic but never reach the point of being actually funny.
Often confused for the inferior, execrable Once Bitten, which starred a young Jim Carrey, My Best Friend Is a Vampire is innocuous and mildly diverting. Leonard (Dead Poets Society, House M.D.) is more likeable than Carrey. Unlike the stars of most teen movies, he was actually a teenager when the movie was made. His youth lends an endearing awkwardness to his earnest charm. And the supporting cast, particularly Mirand and Auberjonois, are a cut above the 1980s teen flick standard.
The movie has faults that are typical of teen movies of its era. There’s a carelessness and sense of haste that permeates the film. Leonard’s vampire make-up looks as if it had been smeared on with a butter knife. The music cues are abrupt and overly loud. The midpoint musical montage (to Timbuk3′s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”) turns into a music video. But the songs are generally pretty good, so I can’t complain too much.
The film benefits by being set in an actual place (Houston) and from actually having been filmed in Houston instead of Canada doubling as Generic Suburbia, USA. Even though there’s nothing in the script that’s especially “Houston-ish,” the location scenes don’t have to cover up anything distinctive to the city, grounding the movie with a sense of place.
While My Best Friend Is a Vampire may not be the best version of the premise that could have been made, it’s far from the worst. Although it may not be a good film, it holds up as an amiable time-waster.
OSCAR-WINNER ALERT: A pre-Misery Kathy Bates shows up in one scene as Darla’s mother.