The Summer of 82 finally pivoted away from adventure, but this adult comedy flatlines — Ultimate Movie Year
“Young Doctors in Love”
Directed by Garry Marshall
Released July 16, 1982
Where to Watch
After several weeks of consecutive science-fiction and adventure films (and frequently both), it’s pretty refreshing to break the streak with a comedy set in a hospital. “Young Doctors in Love” emulates other popular comedies of the era by firing a constant stream of jokes toward audiences but never quite lands the balance of humor it needs to be an all-time classic.
The film takes place at City Hospital, where a team of interns joins the staff to continue their studies. Two interns, Dr. Simon August (Michael McKean) and Dr. Stephanie Brody (Sean Young), begin an awkward romance, as August is prickly and intense while Brody is suffering from a mysterious ailment she hides from everyone around her. On the patient side, a mafia boss (Titos Vandis) suffers a stroke but is admitted into the hospital under a false identity to protect his son Angelo (Hector Elizondo). The latter also disguises himself as a woman. However, a hitman (Michael Richards) is hired to kill the mafioso at the hospital, a job that proves to be more difficult than expected.
The “Young Doctors in Love” hospital has the Marx brothers’ governing philosophy. Still, at least Groucho and his siblings kept the anarchy to themselves. Everybody here is operating at — to use the vocabulary of a far more popular McKean comedy — at an 11. It’s also why “Young Doctors” doesn’t rise to the quality of a movie like “Airplane!”
The hidden strength of “Airplane!” is that every character plays their situation completely straight, regardless of how ridiculous the moment appears. It’s also boosted by solid character writing and the performance of the two leads, Ted and Elaine. The central romance in “Airplane!” is grounded in a relatable situation. The film gives us the space to become invested in their journey at the center, surrounded by the absurdist hijinks around them.
“Young Doctors in Love” takes an early blueprint of “Airplane!” and creates a bad copy of it. The actors are playing different types of comedy, with some visibly self-aware of the silliness. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s enough to undersell many of the film’s jokes because there’s no internal consistency. Half the time, the scenes play out as if we’re the reality of a spoof, but the other moments feel like we’re in the real world dealing with dickhead doctors.
The total disconnect is why falling into “Young Doctor’s” rhythms is challenging. The central romance is also by the numbers, expending little effort in explaining why August and Brody would be interested in each other beyond the fact they’re in the same place, they’re suitably attractive, and they’re the two top-billed stars of the movie. It’s almost as if “Young Doctors” doesn’t want us to hang onto anything in this story, so it also contributes a choppy editing style that sprints us from scene to scene without giving the audience a beat to the process of where we are now and where we are going.
The film marks the directorial debut of Garry Marshall, a Hollywood veteran mainly known as a television writer/producer. Marshall was enjoying a career high point with the success of his popular television show, “Happy Days,” which produced several spinoffs. Marshall’s style of humor followed him into the movies, as he aimed to create laughs for all audiences. He would have a reasonably productive career as a feature film director and producer with a filmography that includes 1990’s “Pretty Woman” and 2002’s “The Princess Diaries.” Marshall, who passed away in 2016, had a late-career focus on ensemble comedies based around holidays, such as 2010’s “Valentine’s Day,” 2011’s “New Year’s Eve,” and 2014’s “Mother’s Day.” With its diverse plotlines, “Young Doctors in Love” resembles more of those holiday ensembles than a standard focus on one to three individuals.
In a 2009 interview, Marshall explained that he often used his background in writing and television to focus on fixing scenes and punching them up with a sharp gag to close. That’s evident in “Young Doctors in Love,” as there are a few hilarious moments, but the slapdash attention to the story ultimately flatlines the overall experience.
The movie has an impressive cast of young stars and character actors, including Young, McKean (who appeared in the “Happy Days” spinoff, “Laverne and Shirley”), Ted McGinley, Saul Rubinek, Harry Dean Stanton, Dabney Coleman, Michael Richards, Taylor Negron, Pamela Reed, and Elizondo, who would become a mainstay of Garry Marshall films. If you’re a longtime film buff, it’s enough of an ensemble to spend half of the 95-minute run time playing spot the actor. McKean is the most successful of this group at locking into that bone-dry straight character performance you need to replicate the humor of “Airplane!” an attribute that would serve him well in the future with more well-known roles.
Upon release, “Young Doctors in Love” had a solid run at the box office, possibly because it was the first adult comedy to hit cinemas in about two months. The film performed well for the first few weeks, then maintained a steady audience through Labor Day weekend. It finished with a $30.7 million domestic box office total. However, “Young Doctors” never generated enough fandom and acclaim to keep it in our cultural conversation with movies of that era. As an example of the movie’s lack of cache, it’s currently unavailable to buy, rent, or stream on any significant platforms outside of one person’s upload on YouTube.
“The movie sounds like a good idea,” wrote Roger Ebert in his original review for The Chicago Sun-Times. “Maybe it was a good idea, lost in the execution. You wind up skirting the edges of unpleasant comic material about blood and death. Hospitals are just not very funny. But most of the time, I wasn’t laughing, and toward the end, I wasn’t even smiling. When a comedy goes wrong, it goes very wrong. ‘Young Doctors in Love’ goes very wrong.”
“Young Doctors in Love” only has a legacy at the moment of its release. It remains an artifact of the era, a successful television producer jumping to movies trying to copy what worked before without understanding the rhythms and elements of a feature-film comedy. Its stars would go on to do more satisfactory work elsewhere. There’s no nostalgia for it in a nostalgia-driven landscape.
But it’s not a science-fiction adventure film, so it’s got that going.
At the Box Office: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” continues its dominance over the movie summer, maintaining its first-place crown at the box office for the sixth week. The Steven Spielberg family film earned $13 million over the three days, bringing its domestic total to $129.4 million.
By this point, Spielberg has become the most prominent director in the world by a country mile. It stands to reason that the only thing that could compete with “E.T.” is another Spielberg movie. His previous film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was re-released in theaters this weekend, earning $4.3 million for second place. It’s a good number for a re-release, which in the days before reruns, rentals, and streaming, was the only way audiences could usually see popular movies again.
“Young Doctors in Love” debuted in third place with $4.2 million, followed by “Tron” in fourth place with $3.6 million and “Rocky III” in fifth place with $3.5 million.
Two other new comedies, Woody Allen’s “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” and “Six Pack” with singer Kenny Rogers in the lead role, failed to make an impression on audiences. “Midsummer” landed in eighth place with $2.5 million, and “Six Pack” finished in 11th place with $1.9 million.
Next Week: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “The World According to Garp”
Originally published at https://www.ultimatemovieyear.com on July 16, 2022.