In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb same kind of different as me

Same Kind of Different as Me

It can be hard to disagree with the heart and events of this true tale, except for when the movie reveals itself to be mighty…

Thumb mv5bnda4ymmwmgity2mzos00odjilthmzdetyza5ngu4zjq5yjhixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjk5nda3otk . v1 sy1000 cr0 0 674 1000 al

Geostorm

God knows how many millions of dollars and hours of manpower went into making and remaking Geostorm but it turns out to have been all…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Journal Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Back to School

Back to School Movie Review
  |  

Rodney Dangerfield has been giving interviews lately on the subject of his loneliness. Why, he asks, should a guy like him, who is able to fill up giant concert halls and pull down millions of dollars a year, be condemned to go through life without the love of a woman? This is not the sort of thing you want to hear from a comedian. You want him to be zany and madcap, to stand astride the problems of the mundane world and laugh at them.

Yet in Dangerfield, there has always been something else in addition to the comedian. This is a man who has failed at everything, even comedy. Rodney Dangerfield is his third name in show business; he flopped under two earlier names as well as his real name. Who is really at home inside that red, sweating face and that knowing leer? The most interesting thing about "Back to School," which is otherwise a pleasant but routine comedy, is the puzzle of Rodney Dangerfield. Here is a man who reminds us of some of the great comedians of the early days of the talkies - of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields - because, like them, he projects a certain mystery. Marx and Fields were never just being funny. There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It's the same with Dangerfield.

Advertisement

He plays Thornton Melon, a millionaire clothing manufacturer who owns a chain of Tall & Fat Shops. His father was a penniless Italian immigrant who took him into the family business as a child. He never had the opportunity to get an education. Now he is rich, his second wife is an obnoxious bauble and all he cares about is his son, Jason, who is a college student.

Dangerfield fondly believes Jason is a fraternity member and a star of the diving team. But actually Jason is the campus wimp, the team's towel boy, and, of course, he gets no respect. When Dangerfield discovers the truth, he decides to enroll in the university as a freshman so he can teach his son the ropes. Of course, there's resistance to this plan, but not after Dangerfield endows the Melon School of Business Administration.

The campus characters are predictable, but well-cast. Sally Kellerman is the sexy English teacher, Paxton Whitehead is the Anglophile business teacher and Ned Beatty is the venal administrator, always referred to as Dean Martin. Dangerfield takes the "drinks for everybody" approach, throwing his money around and hiring expensive coaches to help him pass his classes. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. turns up as a paid expert on his own work. Meanwhile, young Jason learns how to be a big man on campus.

This is exactly the sort of plot Marx or Fields could have appeared in. Dangerfield brings it something they might also have brought along: a certain pathos. Beneath his loud manner, under his studied obnoxiousness, there is a real need. He laughs that he may not cry.

Dangerfield has been looking for a movie style for a couple of years now. The problem with his last movie, "Easy Money" (1983), was that he wanted to seem like a basically nice guy. He isn't a nice guy. Or at least, when he is nice, there is nothing simple about his niceness. The interesting achievement of "Back to School" is its ability to make those contradictions part of the character.

Popular Blog Posts

The Fall of Toxic Masculinity and the Rise of Feminine Consciousness

A special edition of Thumbnails detailing the recent sexual harassment cases in the entertainment and tech industries...

Oscars Could Be Facing Dearth of Diversity Yet Again

A column on the lack of diversity in this year's potential Oscar nominees.

"Blade Runner" vs. "Blade Runner 2049"

A Great Movie is hidden somewhere within "Blade Runner" and "Blade Runner 2049."

Tears of a Machine: The Humanity of Luv in "Blade Runner 2049"

No character in “Blade Runner 2049” is more relatably human than Luv.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus