Opening in New Jersey 1966, Jill (Rosanna Arquette) is a Jewish, popular high school senior with interests in being an actress. At school, she meets an Italian young man nicknamed “the Sheik” (Vincent Spano) who wants to be the next Sinatra and is rumored to have been expelled from his previous school. He becomes enamored with her at first sight and she becomes intrigued with his reckless, rule-breaking ways. They begin an on-again/off-again dating relationship, although to Sheik’s frustration Jill won’t go all the way.
Baby It’s You seems like it’s going to be a typical culture-clash romance, but the plot takes a dramatic turn in the second act. Sheik gets expelled from school, so Jill can’t go to the prom with him. At the beckoning of her friends, she attends with another fellow. That same night, Sheik and a friend rob a store, but are caught by the owner and have to run from the police. Sheik gets away and heads off to Miami.
Jill gets accepted at Sarah Lawrence College and has trouble fitting in. She soon discovers being one of the cool high school kids from Trenton doesn’t translate to college where she has to deal with cooler kids from cooler cities. She pursues acting, but her professor wants her to forget her classical training from high school and instead use sense memory from her own life to inform her performances. These scenes come across like a form of therapy as she works through her experiences and feelings with Sheik, arousing both happiness and anger in Jill.
Sheik works at a Miami restaurant and lip synchs to Sinatra albums on the weekends. Jill goes down to visit, and they finally consummate the relationship. The next scene reveals where the characters are emotionally as Sheik is fast asleep while Jill sadly stares out the window. The audience sees it again in a great moment at the airport when he says, “I love you.” She acknowledges it, but doesn’t return the sentiment. Back home, Jill has changed. She smokes pot and is promiscuous. Sheik drives to Sarah Lawrence to find her, but the girl he wants is no longer there, if she ever was.
Baby It’s You is enjoyable for those prepared for the directions it heads. It’s not the romantic tale it hints at in the beginning, but rather a good character study of Jill as she tries to find her place in the world at an age when many people have similar struggles. It is very straightforward in its execution. There’s nothing flashy going on as the budget likely dictated the simplicity of some directorial choices.
A good deal of the film’s budget must have been spent on music licensing. It has a great soundtrack as the songs set the tone for the scenes. The film has the distinction for being the first to use Bruce Springsteen tracks, which, while anachronistic, still match the mood, especially since they are paired with Sheik, who is a bit of an anachronism himself, acting like a ‘50s Rat Pack member when most other men his age were experiencing the Summer of Love.
Based on a story by actress/producer Amy Robinson, Baby It’s You is John Sayles’ third film as a writer-director. It is now available on DVD thanks to Legend Films on-going efforts to release films buried in the Paramount Pictures vaults.