Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Back to School

Film #170


To help his discouraged son get through college, a funloving and obnoxious rich businessman decides to enter the school as a student himself.

Year 1, Day 170

BEFORE: When thinking of what film to watch today I thought it would be funny to watch Back to School. You see, it’s a joke (a bad one at that) because today is the day I’m heading back home for winter break and this film is all about going to college, not leaving it. Yeah I know, hilarious right. Anyway, it stars Rodney Dangerfield who is also in Caddyshack which I found him amusing in so I’m hopeful for some more laughs in Back to School.

AFTER: Time to pull back the curtain a bit and walk you through my process of watching a film in the marathon. Unless it’s a highly-anticipated film that I’ve been wanting to see for months or years (e.g. Skyfall, The Hobbit) I save my research for after the film. That was the case with Back to School; I saw it had Rodney Dangerfield and it look somewhat interesting so I thought I’d watch it. Little did I know that there are a bunch of big names attached to this film and it was even the sixth highest grossing film of 1986.

I say this because it will help describe the humor and entertainment of the film. Everything about the film, from the jokes and humor to the characters and story, is very reminiscent of films like Animal House, the aforementioned Caddyshack, and Stripes, all of which coincidentally were co-written by Harold Ramis who also co-wrote Back to School.

But while these films are very similar that is not to say Back to School is unoriginal or not funny. It’s merely a style in which the films are made. The leading men are a bunch of non-jock, frat-guys who are sort of like an everyman. Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) might be a wealthy and successful businessman but he acts like a fun-loving, casual, and easygoing guy, who just happens to have a lot of liquid cash to throw around all the time. The men also heavily objectify the women and stare and ogle them wherever they go. The humor itself is very dry and slapsticky. Laughs come more from how a character says a line or their reaction to what someone says rather than what is actually said. It’s a very distinct style of humor that you’ll probably love or hate. As someone who enjoyed films like Animal House and Caddyshack, Back to School was right up my alley and I found myself laughing hysterically throughout the film.

It’s not without it’s issues however. Many times Back to School is more concerned with making a funny joke or creating a hilarious situation to put characters in rather than telling a great story. The story isn’t bad but it is very bland and boring at times. You don’t really care for the characters and only like them because they make you laugh. Especially in this film, it felt like the director Alan Metter concerned himself more with including as many small unimportant roles as he could rather than focusing on just a handful of really meaningful characters. For example there’s Marge (Edie McClurg), Professor Terguson (Sam Kinison), and Derek (Robert Downey Jr.) all of which, Derek especially, are extremely funny characters yet hardly show up on screen at all.

Back to School is one of those films that you’ll find funny or you’ll just think it’s stupid. There isn’t too much in terms of story with all the eggs being placed in the comedy basket. If you’re like me and enjoy the style of humor (which is very similar to Harold Ramis’ other works) then Back to School should make its way onto your list. But otherwise you may want to stay away.

RATING: 4 out of 5