Zack and Paula Make a Love Story
"An Officer and a Gentleman" is another one of those scene movies, they stay in your memory not because of the storyline but because of at least one scene which is both powerful and memorable. That scene of course is the iconic one featuring Richard Gere in Naval whites marching in to a factory to Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes' "Up Where We Belong". Although in fitting with my perverse nature my favourite scene features Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr. fighting. But anyway whilst "An Officer and a Gentleman" is a movie which is popular more for a scene than anything else it is in fact quite a good movie, with more than just some soppy romantic storyline.
After being brought up by his Naval father Byron (Robert Loggia), Zack Mayo (Richard Gere - American Gigolo) decides to sign up for the Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School. But his cockiness and attitude doesn't fit in especially with Sgt. Emily Foley (Louis Gossett Jr. - The Deep) who takes relish in not only breaking his balls but all the new trainees. Whilst at Candidate School Zack and fellow trainee Sid (David Keith) meet local girls Paula (Debra Winger - Rachel Getting Married) and Lynette (Lisa Blount) but as their time at Candidate School is short any chances of a long term relationship is going to be hard.
It has to be said that whilst as a whole "An Officer and a Gentleman" is a good movie the storyline borders on the cliche. The whole story of Zack Mayo trying to prove himself by getting through Naval training whilst Sgt. Emil Foley takes joy in breaking his balls is nothing new as pretty much any movie which features some form of military training will feature the same thing. But strangely whilst Louis Gossett Jr. barking orders at Richard Gere is seriously cliche it's also enjoyable as we watch Gere's Mayo being pushed through a physical and mental ringer. And being cliche it's quite obvious where the storyline will end, as bad egg Mayo discovers who he really is and what means the most to him as he grows up during training.
What is nice are the subplots which revolve around his friends who are also training. The storyline surrounding his best friend Sid Worley and a local girl is a nice touch with a deeper significance as is the sub plot surrounding trainee Casey Seeger and her struggle to complete the assault course. It's these subplots which help stop the whole military training aspect of "An Officer and a Gentleman" becoming too cliche, although it does get corny with some terrible dialogue which is only beaten by "Top Gun" a few years later.
But of course most people think of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and they think about the love story between Zack Mayo and Paula Pokrifki and in particular that iconic scene featuring Richard Gere in naval whites. Now to be frank, whilst the whole romantic storyline is nicely written with the whole issue of Zack clearing off when he finishes training, it never really fills you with a gooey feeling until that iconic scene which is made all the more powerful thanks to "Up Where we Belong" being played over the top of it. It means that for the rest of the movie the whole love story seems almost ordinary. Even the sex scenes and the moments of nudity, and there are a few, add little to make it anymore sensual or erotic.
What this means is from a storyline perspective "An Officer and a Gentleman" is well written but not spectacular. It is the well crafted scenes which burn themselves into our memories and whilst most will remember the scenes with Richard Gere in naval whites, for me the scene where Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr. face off which is much better. It is raw and honest in the way they fight with the crippling punch or boot being a dirty one. But there are others and there are the sex scenes and of course the training sequences such as the assault course and crash simulator which are all quite good and memorable.
All of this means that "An Officer and a Gentleman" would be an average movie made better by memorable scenes but the casting actually takes it to the next level and in particular the casting of Richard Gere, Debra Winger and Louis Gossett Jr. Gere and Gossett maybe playing cliche characters in Zack Mayo the waster and Sgt. Emil Foley the tough training officer but it works and the on going battle between them makes all the cliche aspect more entertaining. And as for Debra Winger as Paula Pokrifki, well she emits loveliness in every scene but also an element of vulnerability as her relationship with Mayo edges towards the expected difficulties.
But in a strange way the nicest performance comes from David Keith as Sid Worley because the subplot surrounding him and Lynette lends itself to a more subtle, dramatic performance. Yet Keith's brilliance at delivering rapid dialogue shines through making those scenes which feature him quite special. What is a shame is that Robert Loggia, a fine actor who often gets over looked didn't get more scenes, only appearing early on as Mayo's drink loving father.
What this all boils down to is that "An Officer and a Gentleman" is a good movie in fact it is better than good despite firmly residing in the realms of cliche. It doesn't have pretensions of being anything more than a dramatic love story but some of the drama is particularly good. But that doesn't disguise the fact that "An Officer and a Gentleman" is a movie made memorable thanks to that scene with Richard Gere in Naval whites.