Depending on who you asked, Baby It’s You (1983) was made to be a romance ( co-writer Amy Robinson), a teenage sex comedy (the studio), or a class-conflict movie (John, of course).
Set in the ‘60s, it tells the hopeful and sober story of an unlikely romance between middle-class, college-bound Jewish high school senior Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette) and a working class, Sinatra-loving, Italian-American kid known as The Sheik (Vincent Spano). The existence of the movie itself is unlikely too—John ran into a lot of push-back on his creative decisions from the studio: “It escaped, rather than was released,” he quipped.
“It’s only on the second viewing that it becomes apparent that the opening moments of Baby It’s You double as the film in miniature. After a bell rings to signal the end of one class period at a Trenton, New Jersey high school, [Jill] emerges from class chatting away with some friends, all of them dressed in complementary outfits that could have been taken from the wardrobe department of The Patty Duke Show. By chance, she bumps into The Sheik…, who would stand out even if he weren’t the new kid in school. The year is 1966, but no one told him. He wears his hair slicked back and a suit and tie so pristine it mocks the idea of propriety. They exchange an electric glance, then Jill keeps moving. Sheik, on the other hand, remains planted in place. All he can do is look at her while she walks away…They’re from opposite sides of Trenton, but could just as easily come from different eras” (Phipps).
From the start, Jill embodies mobility and hope for the future, while Sheik confronts her with the inertia of past and present—he goes on to lip sync Sinatra tunes for a living, while she, an aspiring actress, falls in with the hippie crowd at Sarah Lawrence College. But somehow, they fail to recognize this meaningful mise-en-scene as a bad omen, and instead embark upon a class-conflicted romance that follows them, fractured, as they labor under the threat of dreams unfulfilled.
A tug-of-war between nostalgia and aspiration sits at the heart of the movie and drives its conflict, and a great soundtrack (including three Springsteen tunes) works in time with changes in the characters’ inner and outer lives.
One more insight from Phipps:
“Baby It’s You follows a love affair from infatuation to passion to disillusion to the point where at least one of the lovers can look back on what’s happened and begin to understand the role it has played in his or her life…It captures the way time keeps pushing its characters forward even as their hearts yearn for the past. Jill’s musical taste moves from The Supremes to The Velvet Underground, her style from cashmere sweaters to caftans. She processes her time with Sheik first as great adventure, then as a joke about New Jersey crudity, and finally as fodder for a drama class exercise. Her feelings change, but the experience still has a hold on her.
Does this movie still have a hold on you?