Tuesday, September 18, 2007


"Me" Movies: Accepted

I enjoy two kinds of movies. The first kind is the “Good Movie.” Good Movies can be identified by such traits as intelligent writing, sensitive direction, quality acting, and the like: Network leaps to mind, or maybe Heathers. Not all good movies are good in every way – watching again as an adult, I was struck at how poor the dialogue and acting were in Star Wars – but they usually have enough good in them that you can endorse them in public and not feel cheap or exposed.

The second kind is the “Me Movie.” These are movies that, by any objective criteria, suck, but that speak to me anyway. Sometimes they're poorly executed, but have a brilliant premise: Grace Quigley, say, or Idiocracy. I'll forgive a lot for a brilliant premise. Sometimes they're horribly sloppy but capture some basic, and specific, truths that most movies just don't: Chasing Amy falls into this category (don't ask), as does Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (“we kicked penicillin's sorry ass!”). Sometimes they just happen to feature an actress on whom I'm crushing wildly at the time. (I'm not made of stone, people.) And sometimes they have little moments that just jump off the screen, as if they were spliced in from another movie altogether.

Accepted is that last kind of Me Movie.

By any traditional measure, it's a steamer. The “I'm a Mac” guy stretches as an artist by playing a snot-nosed kid with a sense of entitlement. The premise is silly: kids who didn't get into college start one of their own. (Apparently, they've never heard of community colleges, which aren't mentioned once.) They cleverly call it the South Harmon Institute of Technology, generating big laffs from the acronym. The college doesn't have “faculty,” but nobody minds, since the students are all-knowing already. (Just ask them!) Students pay their tuition in full, in advance, without anybody even asking about financial aid. (What planet this takes place on is left unspoken.) When the college goes before the accrediting board to plead for its continued existence, The I'm-a-Mac guy delivers a self-indulgent rant to the board, winning their hearts with his plea for, um, artistic truth or something. (At least when the frat in Animal House made its plea, the members knew they were shoveling. The I'm-a-Mac guy seems to actually believe it.) The neighboring college is stuffy and intolerant, and the hero gets the girl with his authentic, um, artistic truth or something. Bleah.


Lewis Black as the Dean? Oh, hell yes.

Anybody familiar with Mr. Black's oeuvre will be unsurprised to learn that his character is irascible, profane, and vaguely unhinged, but with alarming vocal stamina. He's also even more unkempt (less kempt?) than he is on The Daily Show, apparently going for a sort of Jimmy-Buffett-the-morning-after look.

His meeting with the I'm-a-Mac guy's parents was pure genius. He cavalierly (and obscenely) dismissed all the usual highfalutin' justifications for higher education, finally settling on a really blunt invocation of high starting salaries. When he concluded the meeting with “Fuckin' A!”, I nearly fell off the couch. A dean who screams obscenities at parents, delivers drunken tirades in public to the approval of all, and visibly does not care one iota about appearances, propriety, or even sobriety is great fun to watch. It did my heart good.

It's a straight-up wish fulfillment kind of pleasure, but what the hell. A world in which deans are allowed to rant at such velocity that their hapless interlocutors emerge showered with spittle, gaping in open-mouthed disbelief? Yes, please.

I give Accepted three mortarboards, but I really couldn't argue with anyone who pronounced it craptacular. It's a Me Movie.

What's your Me Movie?

Mine is "Proof". Yes, Paltrow is a terrible actress and ruins what is a pretty good screenplay, but as a female mathematician I'm required to love movies about female mathematicians.
As a former debate coach, the only movie about college debate, "Listen to Me" is kind of my fantasy.

Instead of being forced to fight for the continued existence of my program from a basement office while getting nearly no pay, the Roy Schneider character has an office with an office view, can afford a beach house and is proclaimed "the most important man on campus".

Instead of having to beg students to be on the team, a whole auditorium full of articulate students show up to try-out! Instead of paying to drive my own car to tournaments, they get their own airplane! Instead of my actually paying tuition for one of my debaters to keep him in school, he has debate scholarships and the college president wrapped around his little finger...

In terms of coaching, he gets to call "time-out" when his team is debating in front of the Supreme Court! What I couldn't do with a "time-out" when one of my teams was screwing it up!!!!
"Dave." It's not about academia (was that a requirement? If so, it's "How I Got Into College," fully craptacular but hilarious when I was a recruiter). But "Dave" allows me to live out fantasies of a participatory government that might actually help people. It has some good performances from famous people, but altogether it's not a great movie. But I watch it every time it comes on cable. You gotta love cable.
Hudson Hawk. It's the ultimate Me Movie because, as far as I know, I'm the only person on earth who likes it, and I think it's hilarious.
Hmm, I gotta go with Evil Dead - any movie that features Bruce Campbell uttering lines like "Gimme some sugar, baby" can have the worst special effects ever and still be awesome.
I loved "Accepted" too. Actually took it to my dean to watch! best quote-- "Take your P-h-D and stick it up your a-s-s"

My me movie has to be "Hotel New Hampshire" feminist, bittersweet, complex.
"Starter for 10" is about a nerdy British guy starting college in 1985, then trying like hell to get onto his school's "University Challenge" team, the British version of College Bowl. Change the nerdy British guy in 1985 to a nerdy American girl in 1986, and change University Challenge into College Bowl and you now have a movie that is ABOUT ME. The plot is a rather run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, but the tone of the mid-80s is executed well, and the details of the academic competition are DEAD ON. I laughed all the way through.
Wow. You guys are all being kind of upscale here in your semi-trashy movie fawning. Let me bring things down a couple notches. Try "St. Elmo's Fire." Yes, that's right, the Joel Schumacher movie from the '80s, complete with cheesy dialogue, lousy music, and more Brat Packers than anyone could otherwise be expected to tolerate. All that, and I still love something about this bad movie -- it takes me back to a time (my freshman year of college) when my friends and I were incredibly idealistic but ready to get a bit muddied up by the world. I can only watch this movie once a decade now, it's THAT BAD. Paradoxically, though, it really is so good I HAVE to watch it once every decade. Aren't I pitiful! (Plus Ally Sheedy is really incredibly cute in this movie.)
My list of Me Movies are too long to list and I go with what I'm in the mood for most of the time. Anon, I can bring it down another notch. A Me Movie has to be a 1980s teen chick-flick all the more to transport me back to my teen years. Anything John Hughes. Recently I watched She's The Man, the supposed remake of Just One of the Guys, and it was not as good or campy as the the original.

As for education films, Lean On Me is something I watch in full whenever it is on cable. I find it extremely inspiring.
As for Proof, I watched it in the Stockholm Playhouse Theatre groups own translation, on stage, with a good cast.

I came out of the theatre completely in love with the play, and promptly bought it in paperback.

So when the movie came out, I think I mainly glossed over the worse bit, and just concentrated on reliving the wonder and love I feel for the play.

Disclaimer: I'm a mathematician, and the mere density of Mathematics Done Non-horribly in that play is astounding.
Yes, I saw the play with Mary Louise Parker and adored it. But the movie is a whole 'nother creature!

- Anon from 4 am
DD hates it, but I love it: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

It's crap. It's poorly made. It's juvenile. And it's hilarious. My love for this movie makes me ashamed. But love it I do. I cannot and will not defend this love.

"Affleck was the bomb in 'Phantoms,' yo!"

"In prison, he'll be the pie!"

Two "me" movies (split personality, perhaps?:

"Dogma," which speaks volumes about loving something that is run by People Who Just Don't Get It (popes, bishops, university presidents, US presidents, etc).

"Sliding Doors": didn't turn out to be the sure-fire date movie that its makers obviouisly intended but it's worth a charitable re-viewing. What things come of those seemingly insignificant choices, the chance non-encounters? Hell, I'd probably be tenured at Major Western State University by now if I'd walked around a couple of different career corners. Well, maybe not.
She's the Man is another one on my list, largely because it's a weird hybrid of "Just One of the Guys" and Twelfth Night, which I was in in college and I loved picking out the weird Shakespeare references in it.
OMG, DD, I think I may be the only other person who *saw* Accepted. You're right, it was craptacular. My Me Movie is "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," the only movie in which Keanu Reeves actually has facial expression. It's just so darn fun, and since I live in SoCal, I know where San Dimas is. The movie does have redeeming value in that they get the implications of time travel right! Or so my partner, an astrophysicist, tells me.
I love "The Long, Hot Summer". I'm a big fan of Faulkner, and the movie has nothing to do with what's great about his writing, but I love it anyway. I have no idea why, either. I watch it every summer on a really hot day. I also feel this way about a couple of other Jerry Wald movies, although not as strongly. And I like "Simply Irresistible", probably because Sarah Michelle Gellar was so cute back then.
I echo Anon's choice of "Bill and Ted." As a historian, it was formative in my career development, dude.

Aside from that, "Contact," a movie about faith, belief, disbelief, loneliness, sound, everything. Plus, Jodie Foster. My girl crush.
My movie is "Office Space." The characters and situations are transcendant; you don't have to be a traditional "office" worker to know each character. Just let me file my TPS reports in peace.

Several of the above-mentioned flicks aren't really "me" movies because they're actually, objectively good. So, on the side-topic of a good movie's unlooked-for relevance for us and to what we do, let me suggest The Silence of the Lambs: a story that's in large part about Clarice Starling's being caught between two characters whose roles are somewise teacherly: her trainer and boss Jack Crawford, and, of course, Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter, who teaches her the more advanced lessons in how to use her considerable yet raw talent. And it's Lecter, of course, who shows her the more considerate special attention in the end, checking in with an encouraging word. Thomas Harris didn't come up with the name "Lecter" out of a hat.
Summer School, another far-fetched me movie.
Titanic. The dialogue was poor, the premise improbable at best, but the title character? Amazing.
OMG, Summer School! I haven't thought about that in years. Heaven help us, I used to watch that on VHS with my mom and sisters on excruciatingly hot days. Pump Up the Volume falls into somewhat the same category; my sis & I both had crushes on Slater at the time.
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