Baby, It’s You: John Sayles First Studio Film, Starring Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spanno

The story of a doomed high school romance between a college-bound Jewish girl and a working class Italian youth, Baby, It’s You is an uncharacteristically frothy departure for John Sayles in several ways. It’s the first Sayles film with a major studio backing.

Set in Trenton, New Jersey in the mid-1960s, the story follows the ill-fated romance of Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette), the preppy daughter of a Jewish doctor, and Albert (“Sheik”) Capadilupo (Vincent Spanno), the “delinquent” son of an Italian garbage man. When Jill leaves for Sarah Lawrence College to study acting and Sheik heads to Miami to become the next Frank Sinatra, the differences in their social classes create a rift between them.

Baby, It’s You was based on a story by the film’s co-producer Amy Robinson, but Sayles detected marked similarities between it and his own experiences. As he explained in a New York Times Magazine interview, both Trenton and his own hometown are largely “industrial towns: Schenectady has the big G.E. plant, and you can see where the divisions take root. When you come back home after graduation, the guys you’d been friends with might be collecting your garbage. In a funny way, high school is the last bastion of democracy.”

Filmed on a comparatively modest $3-million budget, Baby, It’s You received mostly but not unanimously positive response from the critics. Stanley Kauffmann derided it as a dull treatment of a conventional story in his New Republic review, but Joy Gould Boyum of the Wall Street Journal praised the film’s “strikingly authentic texture” and Sayles’s “insights into the shifting nature of class.”

Writing in Time, Richard Corliss concluded, “Sayles is, as always, wise and fair to his mismatched characters. His movies look as if they were made by a fly on the wall that had an advanced degree in psychology.”

Pursuing the couple’s lives after school, Sayles examines the effect of hippie culture on her and of harsh life in Miami on him. Neither preachy nor condescending to his characters, Sayles shows greater sensitivity to the class divide than most American directors.

Well-mounted by producers Griffin Dunne and Amy Robinson (also known as actors), Baby, It’s You is shot by Michael Ballhaus and features a resonant soundtrack with Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, and the Shirelles.

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