Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres. Since it’s Chicago Week here at The A.V. Club, we’re looking back on some essential Chicago movies, set (and often filmed) in the Windy City.
My Bodyguard has slipped under the radar since its 1980 debut, but it’s the kind of film that appears timeless, decades later. Frankly, in today’s fervent “anti-bullying” educational landscape, it should be dusted off and submitted as required viewing for middle-schoolers. Tony Bill’s directorial debut features floppy-haired Chris Makepeace as new kid Clifford, who quickly gets tormented by a gang of thugs at his Chicago high school. The thugs are led by Moody, played by an astonishing Matt Dillon, simultaneously menacing and charming at all of 16 years old. Clifford gets the idea to hire the school’s biggest kid, Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin), to become his protection against Moody and his pals, and the bully wars are on.
It’s all riveting enough, the kind of youth film that still has parables for adults and moves along at a quick and witty clip for kids—never a prat fall into sticky sweetness. Fortunately for Clifford, on his side he has a snappy Martin Mull as his father, the harried manager of the now-closed Ambassador East Hotel; Ruth Gordon basically playing Maude again as his adorable grandmother; and pals like Joan Cusack in her film debut (along with Jennifer Beals, who has no dialogue).
The “roughness” of the school is played up, but the movie’s Chicago setting only works in its favor. Devoted North-Siders can now see My Bodyguard as a nostalgic postcard to certain areas of the city—most specifically, the intersection of Irving and Ashland, where Lake View High School, the setting of much of the movie, still resides. The vacant lot where the first bully standoff occurs has long since been filled in, and the kids’ after-school hangout is likely long gone. Still, it’s fun to see a Standard gas station sign where a Popeyes now resides, and walking through that intersection still feels a lot like Clifford and Linderman’s stroll in the movie.
Less logically, the kids also spend a lot of after-school time by the Lincoln Park lagoon; lovely to be sure, but a bit of a hike. The rowboats that Clifford and his pals have a chat in were eventually replaced by paddleboats, and the whole thing currently stands as a nature sanctuary (so, no more boats). There’s an ice cream stand and a fancier restaurant there now, but the movie reminds us why so many Chicagoans and tourists flock to the city’s verdant spaces like Lincoln Park—for that tantalizing, incongruous dose of nature in the city.
It also doesn’t make much sense for Linderman to reside down by 13th Street if he goes to school up in Lakeview, but apparently the filmmakers had to get that gritty neighborhood texture in there somewhere. And it’s a good thing they did: So many modern youth movies appear to take place in some nebulous, idyllic Californian subdivision, where everyone lives in McMansions and carries the same snooty backpacks. In the My Bodyguard era, a handful of films—like Rich Kids, Times Square, and A Little Romance—showed that not all kids lived in the same homogenous middle-class structure, and that problems like bullying can stretch across every conceivable income and property line. My Bodyguard offered a charming take on what could have been a generic after-school-special tale, and couldn’t have picked a better backdrop to do it in.
Availability: My Bodyguard is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.