Someone has written Michael (C. Thomas Howell) a letter, and she has placed it inside his locker at school. He doesn't even notice it, however, and grabs it along with a lot of other detritus and pushes it into a bin, then at the last moment realises it might be important, and puts the letter to one side, obviously not important enough to investigate straight away. Then he joins his friends outside, Toni (Lori Loughlin) who has been chatting to Debbie (Kelly Preston), the girl he secretly has a crush on. But she is whisked away by her college boyfriend Steve (Scott McGinnis) in his sports car, whereupon Michael is whisked away in turn by his mates in the van belonging to Roger (Casey Siemaszko). However, they open the letter before he does...
Secret Admirer wasn't the highest profile of teen movies out of Hollywood, and it wasn't the best by any means, but co-writer (with Jim Kouf) and director David Greenwalt (later a successful television producer) did manage by dint of a plot that came across like an updating of a French farce to make a minor impact in the overstuffed landscape of the genre that was the nineteen-eighties. Fair enough, it still wasn't fall down hilarious, but there were enough bright spots stemming from characters misunderstanding other characters to engender an atmosphere of lightly comical foolishness spread around some largely likeable folks for an hour and a half. Some were easier to get along with than others, but this was a romance as well, which was probably the most frustrating aspect.
Even that was only because you wanted to give selected players in this runaround a shake to make them see sense, especially Michael who cannot perceive that the girl he should be with is staring him in the face, and it sure isn't the snobby, vapid Debbie. Indeed, although there's a supposed secrecy, as the title suggests, as to who sent him the anonymous love letter, it is plain for us to notice there's only one girl sensitive enough to have penned it, not to mention there are but two female characters of high school age (though the actresses were not, being older - actual teenager Howell must have been thanking his lucky stars) who could possibly be the culprit, unless Greenwalt was preparing to introduce a last minute addition to the cast to take the blame.
Whether he did or not you would have to watch it and find out, but that letter inspires Michael to try writing letters of his own, to Debbie, who is flattered since she doesn't know Michael is the author and would like someone a tad more sensitive than Steve to romance her. But in an unfortunate development all these affectionate missives being passed around means they fall into the wrong hands, and soon in ludicrous fashion the parents of Michael and Debbie are caught up in thinking that Michael's father (Cliff De Young) is having an affair with Debbie's mother (Leigh Taylor-Young), the tutor on his college course, while her cop dad (Fred Ward, priceless in his pissed off demeanour) gets together to commiserate with Michael's mother (Dee Wallace).
Got all that? It doesn't seem so complicated when it's unfolding, testament to the confident handling of the material. At first it appears to be the tale of a dumb jock awakening from the boorishness of himself and his peers when the realisation that somebody loves him melts his heart, and that was an element, but Greenwalt liked his characters and nobody is the real villain here, they're more victims to their own shortsightedness in not understanding what's best for them in life - or who. As if this was not seeming eighties enough, Corey Haim showed up as Howell's younger brother who helps himself to the contents of his wallet, and also has a teeth-itchingly sweet choice of breakfast (seriously, what is that sauce frequently seen squirted over food?). That said, perhaps the genuine draw here was Loughlin in possibly her best movie role, suggesting with ease Toni's grievances with falling for a chap too stupid to twig what a catch she is, though the ending begs the question "what happened next?" perhaps more than intended. Music by Jan Hammer (which keeps threatening to turn into a soft drink ad theme).