The Movie Dos and Don'ts of Studentdom
Don't: National Lampoon's Animal House (John Landis, 1978)
I’ve never seen the appeal of Animal House. Don’t get me wrong, these boys are hilarious. I could watch John Belushi’s Bluto do his zit impression all day, but can you imagine living with him? For one thing, your dry cleaning bills would be enormous. John Landis’ landmark comedy offers up two kinds of student: rich dicks in pastel Ralph Lauren v-necks who are a bit too keen on spanking their pledges' rear ends or toga-party throwing anti-establishment anarchists. Neither appeal, quite frankly. The laddish bonhomie of Faber College's Delta fraternity gives me flashbacks to the forced fun of freshers' week: the weak lager, the iron stomach competitions, the rapey stunts involving intoxicated women taking their clothes off. It’s sleazy and queazy. You’ll find far better ways of spending your next four years in the pages of The Skinny.
Do: Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990)
Whit Stillman’s debut film throws us and its lead character, Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), into the world of debutantes and dandies. Tom, a wannabe preppy in a rented tux, is adopted by a charming bunch of Ivy League socialites. These kids are the antithesis to the Animal House frat boys. They lounge about their parents’ 5th avenue apartments discussing the merits of Jane Austin and glibly denigrating the surrealists – they “were just a bunch of social climbers,” says Nick, the acerbic aristocrat who takes Tom under his wing. Like all good students, they are adorably pretentious. Unlike Landis, who seems to revel in his film's nasty reverse-snobbery, Stillman has compassion for his film's teen bourgeoisie; his camera both ridicules and sympathises. Uni doesn’t always have to be cider, toga parties and Chesney Hawkes – Metropolitan teaches us to stay classy.
Don’t: Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)
This is the university experience as nightmare. Adapted from the second post-modern poison pen novel from Bret Easton Ellis, it follows Sean Bateman, a nihilistic git who makes his serial killer big bro Patrick (American Psycho) look as benign as Frank Spencer. (He’s all the more terrifying for being played by James Van Der Beek, the moonfaced title character from Dawson's Creek, the most chaste teen show in the history of TV.) Sex, for Sean, should be drug-fueled and vomit soaked. Any hint of emotional connection and his dick goes limper than a French baguette in a jacuzzi. His classmates' sex lives aren’t any healthier. For example: Paul (Ian Somerhalder), a gay guy infatuated with Sean’s massive Van Der Beek-coupon, likes to lip dub to George Michael songs as foreplay.
Do: Kaboom (Gregg Araki, 2010)
Like Rules of Attraction's Paul, Smith (Thomas Dekker), the lead character in Gregg Araki’s spaced-out sci-fi sex farce, is infatuated with a straight Neanderthal he can’t have – his "dumb as a box of rocks" surfer roommate. But you don’t see Smith pining. This boy gets it where he can get it, whether it’s with London (Juno Temple), the shagtastic, fez-wearing party girl who jumps him at a party in the men’s room, or a hunky married man who cruises a nearby nude beach for young blokes to bang in his van. Sure, a gang of mask-wearing cultists are trying to kidnap him, but that never stops Smith getting his dick wet. Rarely in American cinema has making the beast with two backs (or in some cases three) been portrayed with such nonchalant abandon.
Don’t: The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
What is success? Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg is a 90lb computer nerd who outsmarts two über-privileged Aryan WASP jocks – the Winklevoss brothers (or Winklevii). That’s the plot to every Revenge of the Nerds-like Hollywood fable. Success, surely? The only difference is that The Social Network is directed by David Fincher, who brings the same sinister style of Zodiac and Se7en to the Harvard quadrangles where this story takes plays. Our dweeb anti-hero doesn’t get the girl: he has the girl but she dumps him in the opening scene because he's a nasty piece of work. And rather than bring his best mate Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) along for the ride, he screws him out of millions of dollars. Zukerberg may have more money than Scrooge McDuck, but he’s still a loser clicking that refresh button waiting for someone, anyone, to friend him on Facebook.
Do: Real Genius (Martha Coolidge, 1985)
Once you’ve witnessed the denouement to this paean to education for education’s sake, where 15-year-old wiz-kid Mitch (Gabriel Jarret), together with his pocket-protector-wearing uni chums, destroys his corrupt professor's newly built dream home in a shower of popcorn while simultaneously foiling a nefarious Reagan-era Star Wars program, you’ll never flush a geek's head down a toilet again. Unlike Zuckerberg, whose main motivation to create is revenge, the college kids of Real Genius invent stuff for shits and giggles. So when they discover that the high-powered laser they’ve been building has been sold to the US military to be used as a weapon to vapourise commies by satellite these Poindexters decide to get even. Val Kilmer, playing Mitch's roommate Chris, makes for the most unconvincing rocket scientist since Denise Richards played Dr Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough, but that only adds to the dada-esque charms of this 80s confection.
Don’t: Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)
Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American man wearing a burgundy polo-neck and sporting some ridiculous facial hair, starts chatting to a spiky Frenchwoman, Céline (Julie Delpy), while on a train crossing central Europe. We instantly hate him. When he persuades her to interrupt her journey home to Paris for a day and night of walking and talking around Vienna we hate him even more. As the evening light fades to darkness they discuss politics and art, contemplate the soul, and pretend to have phone conversations with each other’s friends so they can have honest chats about what they are feeling. We begin to warm to the couple. We begin to root for one of them to make the first move. Linklater’s brilliant film captures attraction better than any modern movie, but damn if it isn’t heartbreaking. What good is love if it’s with someone who lives an ocean away? “We’ll always have Vienna,” they’ll say. As we discover in its sequel (Before Sunset), you never shake that summer romance.
Do: The Sure Thing (Rob Reiner, 1985)
John Cusack’s Gib is the perfect role model for any aspiring slacker. He’s talented but lazy. English compositions are written in the dead of night while eating frozen pizza: the daylight hours are for throwing the ol’ pig skin around campus and shotgunning cans of beer. Relationships are a bit tricky, though. “All the girls at this school want to stay indoors, smoke and relate,” says Gib, “I don’t like them.” Like Jesse in Before Sunset, Gib finds his ideal girl, the eponymous sure thing, but she’s 2000 miles away on the west coast. To get to this no-string-attached sex goddess, the cash-strapped Gib must bum a ride with his school’s resident killjoy, Alison (Daphne Zuniga), who’s crossing the country to be with her straight-laced boyfriend. It’s basically It Happened One Night for the John Hughes generation. Gib and Alison, despite have opposing attitude to nutrition and mooning, are, surprise surprise, actually made for each other. So before you propose to that mysterious exotic beauty you met online, consider the square down the hall.