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Non-Review Review: Old School

It’s tempting to look back at Old School in the wake of the massive success of The Hangover and claim “I saw Todd Phillips’ potential first!” After all, massive critical, commercial and audience hits don’t come out of nowhere, and the early work of a given director should probably give some indication of their hidden talent. However, I don’t really see too much of The Hangover in Old School, a film that I like, even if I don’t love it. There are a few similarities in content and structure, but I still can’t see anything in the film that would have led to me to “keep an eye” on Phillips. It’s a solid fratboy comedy, but it’s not anywhere near a classic.

Ferrell was on a hot streak when this came out...

Old School does have several factors working in its favour. It’s something of a spiritual successor to Animal House, and it has been quite a long time since we’ve a frat-boy comedy like this. Most comedies around college in the past ten to twenty years have skirted in under the radar – probably because they aren’t very good. So, Old School feels like an affectionate and nostalgic throwback to a type of film we haven’t really seen (or at least seen done well) in quite a long time.

So there is a goofy charm in seeing the formula play out, with the prickly college dean and the inevitable last-minute exams and such, all executed with a wry self-awareness that makes sure that it knows that you know that this is a by-the-numbers college comedy. “As stupid as they appear,” one sycophant informs the Dean when asked to explain how the group keep finding these plot-mandated loopholes in college by-laws, “they’re actually very good at paperwork. It’s quite an anomaly.”

French kiss of life...

There is, I suppose, a bit of charm to be seen in inserting protagonists from modern Judd-Atapow-style comedies into this conventional narrative, a sort of fusion of old-and-new, with trappings of modern and classic fraternity comedies. Our three leads wouldn’t look out of place on the set of The 40-Year Old Virgin or other similar films, but it’s quite novel to insert them into a classic college movie – not least because it’s an environment that somehow suits the mental age of these forty-something gentlemen. It feels strangely fitting for these emotionally immature man-children to intersect with higher education, hanging around with friends who are at the same stage of emotional development.

I think the movie suffers from something that really helped The Hangover. There’s a general sense of randomness to everything that goes on here, with plotlines being suggested, developed and suddenly dropped, all with no real reason. In The Hangover, this worked because it fit well with the fragmented narrative – of course the plot developed in fits-and-starts down random dead-end alleyways, that was the point of the film! It doesn’t work quite so well here, because Old School is a more conventional film. We expect, for example, something to come of the ill-considered dalliance between Mitch and his boss’ teenage daughter, but nothing ever does. It just serves as a punchline that the movie can return to from time to time.

Wrestling with adulthood...

It’s strange, because the movie has a very clear plot, with a bunch of central character arcs, but there are moments when it seems almost a collection of college-themed sketches. It’s a strange disconnect, and one that weakens the film. On the other hand, most of the jokes are funny enough to give the movie a pass, but it just feels like a lot got removed in the editing suite, with a significant number of plot threads left dangling on the floor. That said, the movie kind of parodies this sort of carefully-structured dove-tailing by forcing two different plot threads to cancel themselves out during the end credits, through some convenient coincidences.

I will admit to being a bit disappointed with the three leads. I like Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn – they are three very capable actors, but none of them really excel in the lead roles. I did take quite a liking to Jeremy Piven as the Dean, out to foil the college fraternity, and the actor seems to be having a really good time. Ellen Pompeo is fairly nondescript as the mandated love-interest, but Juliette Lewis steals the show in an early cameo. She really is awesome, and it’s a shame that we don’t see her in more films like this.

Class act...

Old School is perfectly entertaining. It’s not hilarious, and it’s not a classic comedy. I suspect, when we look back on the “frat pack” era, it’s a movie that will be more notable for the people involved than for the quality of the film. It’s decent and witty enough that you won’t regret the time spent watching it, but it’s not on-par with The Hangover.

2 Responses

  1. Funny as hell film with perfect casting for all characters. Nice review my main man!

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