A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 592 – Animal House

Animal House – October 13th, 2011

By all rights I should hate this movie. It’s not like I relate to it, given that my own college experience was so very different than the one portrayed in this movie and I’m not a guy. It’s full of raunchy humor, drinking, objectification of women and one dead animal joke. On the other hand, the cast is fantastic, a fair amount of the humor is fun no matter what and the pay off at the end is some of the best chaotic revenge one could ask for. But honestly, I’m still baffled by how much I enjoy this movie. I feel almost like I should be ashamed.

I should start out by explaining my own college experience. I had friends who drank, but I never did and even the friends I had who did drink didn’t party quite that hard. Heavy drinking was really an occasional thing and wild parties weren’t thrown spontaneously – they were planned properly and we got permits for them from the school and everything. So it should go without saying that they weren’t too wild. The wildest party I attended while I was there was a party thrown for the whole college (sounds weak, but it was an annual bash and we had bouncers out of necessity). In this movie, some of the main characters take a little bit of a road trip to Emily Dickinson College, where they trick some nice young women into going on a date with them. My college? Was more like Emily Dickinson College. This is why I feel like I should be a little ashamed. But I can’t really bring myself to be ashamed. I’m usually too busy snickering.

By now this movie is a classic, so let’s dispense with the plot summary quickly. Because it’s an ensemble piece it’s not really about the personal journey of any one character. And really, it’s not about a personal journey for anyone. It’s about a fraternity, Delta Tau Chi, whose members are more interested in partying than classes and how they’re targeted by the college administration and then get their revenge. And let’s face it: everything the school administrators say about the frat is true. They are lazy and their house is an absolute mess. They’re loud and they’re obnoxious and they throw noisy drunken parties at the drop of a hat. Their grades are abysmal and they’re not really involved in any activities. They’d make horrible neighbors and they certainly wouldn’t be enhancing the reputation of the school. But since the administrators and their rival fraternity members are all such assholes, where the Deltas are shown as fun guys who aren’t looking to put anyone else down so much as they just want to have a good time, well. You can’t help but root for them.

It’s really a very silly situation. In real life I’m sure I wouldn’t be rooting for them, but this movie presents them just enough on the side of “lovable scamps” that I do. Granted, they’re college-age scamps and their scampering is more along the line of throwing toga parties and causing mayhem during the homecoming parade. Still, that’s the light they’re shown in and somehow I think the movie pulls it off. Which, when you stop to think about it, is really rather impressive.

Now, on the other hand, I really don’t care at all for how the movie shows some of the Deltas interacting with women. The aforementioned road trip to Emily Dickinson College begins with convincing the women that one of the Deltas was engaged to a recently deceased Emily Dickinson student, then ends with the Deltas abandoning the young women at a roadhouse. That’s mitigated by a scene that makes it clear that no harm came to the women aside from having to walk home, but still. The implication the movie makes is that the women were a hair’s breadth away from being assaulted, which is unpleasant in several ways, especially given the racial implications of the scene. And then there’s a whole subplot about how one of the Delta pledges sleeps with a girl whom he assumes is over 18 but it turns out she’s very much underage. And that’s not even touching the implications of the line “The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did.” Yeah. This is why I feel like I should be ashamed for liking this movie.

Still, there’s a lot of good solid humor here that doesn’t rely on that sort of joke and the cast is really very good. John Belushi plays the iconic role of Bluto, who is probably the most recognizable character of the movie. He drinks hard and parties hard and he’s both obnoxious and frequently incomprehensible, but he is the heart of the Delta house. But for me, the character I end up focusing on is Boon, played by Peter Riegert. I can’t help it. I really like Riegert. And I like his friendship with the fraternity president, Otter (played by James Widdoes). They’re obviously best buds and often partners in crime and the actors playing them have a fantastic rapport that makes their conversations feel perfect. I’ve also got a soft spot for Boon because he’s the only one of the guys (aside from pledge Flounder) who actually has a girlfriend. He’s certainly a member of the fraternity, but he’s got it a little bit more together than the rest. Not enough, since his girlfriend, played by the fantastic Karen Allen, breaks up with him temporarily mid-movie, but they get back together at the end.

I only spent a few lines on the plot summary above because really, this movie doesn’t so much need a plot summary. The plot is there to allow the Deltas to do what they do, not to tell a cohesive story. So long as the bad guys are adequately identified and vilified and the good guys are allowed to triumph in the end, that’s what matters. And the point here is really to watch the Deltas be the Deltas. And that’s all basically there to lead up to the end, when they use all of their pranking and havoc-creating skills to thoroughly ruin the homecoming parade. It’s a fantastic scene full of great moments for the whole fraternity. What I really like about the ending is that it doesn’t wrap everything up neatly. I mean, the Deltas don’t get magically reinstated by the end. No deus ex administration pops out to say the Dean has to let them back in. They cause chaos and go out with a bang, then go on with their lives. That’s a truly great way to end a movie like this.

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October 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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