My Bodyguard is a movie I watched as a kid and would show to a kid.
I remember seeing this movie once when I was a little kid, and many of its scenes stayed with me. I think that goes to show what audience My Bodyguard really connects with—curious kids. A high school flick for those who have not yet entered high school, it’s a coming-of-age story that presents a potential path for those who are about to take the plunge. In that sense, the film is a pretty resounding success. High school society, with all of its threatening characters, bullying issues, and ineffectual administration, is portrayed candidly while still floating in an atmosphere of whimsical and expressive childhood experience. The characters (and to some extent, the score) make it so.
Chris Makepeace is Clifford Peache, a sheepish, wide-eyed sophomore about to start a new year at a new school. He lives in an upscale Chicago hotel with his stressed-out father (Martin Mull) and his flirty, alcoholic grandmother (Ruth Gordon, who steals every scene she’s in as usual). Matt Dillon plays the tyrannical school bully, Melvin Moody, who charms the teachers like a snake and ensnares the weak into a cycle of bullying; stealing their lunch money and offering them protection from the school psycho who he touts as the real enemy. The real psycho is a non-threat; a boogeyman that Moody scapegoats for profit. His name is Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), a tall and stone silent figure whose real nature is enshrouded by nasty rumors. He killed his brother or maybe another small child. He rapes old ladies, including his teachers.
When Clifford has enough of Moody’s intimidation, he goes out of his way to approach Ricky. He’ll pay him a regular amount, and in return, Ricky won’t leave his side whenever Moody is around. If tensions escalate, Clifford will have the only thing Moody is afraid of in his corner. While the deal begins impersonal, with Ricky showing reluctance, the pair forms an ultimate bond and come to support each other.
The narrative seems concise in a way that might come across as underwhelming to some, despite its two-hour running time. The story is pretty cut and dry. How to deal with a bully is the question that sets us off, and the answer is given along with a few engaging complications. But all the other cinematic facets come together to elevate that simple premise, and the resultant combination of pathos, original characters, and world building makes My Bodyguard a heartwarming, sometimes devastating, and other times fun, pleasure-inducing movie about growing up.
The score is light and breezy and features a lot of flute, reminding me of the upbeat feel-good tunes behind movies like Little Giants or The Sandlot. Clifford’s diminutive stature and shaggy hair place him alongside other put-upon movie teens and preteens, the most similar being Bastian from The NeverEnding Story. Chris Makepeace gives an understated performance, but he’s remarkably expressive even when showing neutral emotions. Clifford doesn’t live in a normal house or have normal relationships with grownups like so many other adolescent underdogs. His drunken, eccentric grandmother is more like a peer. His father is more like a sympathetic boss or supervisor. His world is impossibly large and full of fleeting strangers and laborers, many of whom he strikes up briefly shown rapports with, and that’s just the hotel his father manages, not the bustling streets of Chicago which are frequently shown as well. Also, Clifford is smarmy. No one in his class dares give lip to Melvin Moody, but Clifford does. And instead of suffering horrific consequences, his intuition, wit, and occasional cajones set all the events of the movie in motion. He’s a solid protagonist who gives equal room to the other great characters (Ricky Linderman being no exception; his character is not at all who he seems to be) and to the earnest and heartfelt direction by Tony Bill.
My Bodyguard is a movie I watched as a kid and would show to a kid. It’s interesting to see a movie like this while considering the time period, 1980. Coming right from the cynicism of the 1970s and heading straight into the upbeat feeling that would overpower so many high school and coming-of-age in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Balancing right on that precipice, My Bodyguard becomes varied, distinguished, and impossible to turn away from. | Nic Champion
Kino Lorber has released My Bodyguard on Blu-ray with fine video quality. The audio lacks occasionally, but it seems to be a problem acquired in production and not distribution. I nevertheless find the occasional sound issues rather charming for the time period. Included with the Blu-ray is a commentary by director Tony Bill and film programmer Jim Healy, an original TV spot for the film, and an original theatrical trailer.