You might question my picking of Back to School as a guilty pleasure. The Rodney Dangerfield movie, about a rude, millionaire businessman who enrolls in the college his son attends, was pretty well received by critics and it did really well at the box office (almost taking in $100 million in 1986). But I never enjoyed it for being a good movie. Dangerfield, while compared to Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields by Roger Ebert, always seemed to me an acquired taste. A taste I never acquired enough to enjoy any of his other pictures. When it came out, I was just a kid and I loved it in the same way I loved other dumb comedies of the '80s. When it was funny, it made me laugh and when it was slow -- take any scene with Sally Kellerman, for instance -- it made me bored. Later in life, I figured my enjoyment was based on nostalgia, though I had new appreciations in that I was then a fan of Oingo Boingo (and front man Danny Elfman) and Kurt Vonnegut, who appear in cameos as themselves.

Today, I appreciate it on another personal, rather than critical, level. As I begin college today after a ten-year hiatus, I feel somewhat related to Dangerfield's character of Thornton Melon. Sure, he was going for the first time and I'm returning after having dropped out, and he was much, much older than I am now, but nonetheless, I am an older-than-usual college student. Unfortunately I'm not rich enough to have a hot tub in my dorm (actually I won't be living in a dorm) or hire Vonnegut to write my papers on his own work. I also don't plan on wooing any professors, going out for the diving team, or doing much of what Melon does in the movie -- I would like to see if Burt Young wants the job of my bodyguard, though.

Dangerfield never made another good movie (not even one worthy of guilty pleasure), and neither did the movie's director, Alan Metter, who had previously made Girls Just Want to Have Fun with a young, tolerable Sarah Jessica Parker (and, for that matter, Helen Hunt) before helming the 7th, and least forgivable Police Academy (Mission to Moscow), an Olsen Twins pic and some awful TV movies. As for Vonnegut and Elfman, well, they did all right. And Keith Gordon, who played Dangerfield's son, he went on to become a decent filmmaker with continued indirect ties to this movie, directing the Vonnegut adaptation Mother Night and The Singing Detective, starring his Back to School co-star, Robert Downey, Jr.
CATEGORIES Features, Cinematical