Private School

Dir: Noel Black, 1983. Starring: Phoebe Cates, Matthew Modine, Betsy Russell, Kathleen Wilhoite, Michael Zorek. Comedy.
Private School

This is the perfect example of a movie that was made, almost exclusively, for a teenage male audience in the '80s. So as a woman there was really very little to help me empathize with the characters, even during the forced moments that are supposed to be either romantic or tender. However, something about its shameless voyeurism and the sensational amounts of uncalled for nudity make this movie special when compared to other '80s comedies like Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which are more popular and deserve to be. Two Fast Times stars are in the film, including the ever-radiant Phoebe Cates and Ray Walston, who played Mr. Hand and stars, for too brief of time, as a limo driver in this movie. It is also Kathleen Wilhoite's film debut, and a favorite of mine in terms of the characters she's played thus far. The point I'm trying to make is that this movie's success as a comedy is not in delivery, or being able to laugh at something that has happened to you. On the contrary, the funniest part about the movie is its raunchy depiction of private school girls, teenage boys, and all the supposedly sex-deprived adults who surround them. Point being, you shouldn’t watch this movie to have some '80s flashback or be able to say, "…Yeah, something like that happened to me in high school." You should watch it because of its unrealistic chain of events and lack of substance.

It's senior year for all the girls at Cherryvale Academy, a posh all-girls boarding school in some forgettable city. Chris (Phoebe Cates) and her best friend Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite) are both trying to lose their virginity to their boyfriends, who are also pals and attend the neighboring all-boys academy. Chris's boyfriend, Jim (Matthew Modine), is extremely handsome and sweet, while Betsy's boyfriend, Bubba (Michael Zorek), fits his name perfectly as the profusely sweaty fat kid who's the biggest pervert in his class. A reccurring source of comedy has to do with Bubba trying to avoid the deed and convincing Betsy that they've already done it, she just doesn’t remember on account of being drunk. Meanwhile, Chris and Jim have made plans to book a hotel for a weekend in order to show some class and spark romance for their first time. The only problem is that Chris's rival, Jordan (Betsy Russell), also has the hots for Jim and will do anything to get his attention. As the openly catty Jordan starts to pursue Jim, Chris and Betsy retaliate by trying to be one step ahead of her. The boys from the other school try desperately to infiltrate the girls' academy in order to either get a peak at all the naked chicks walking around the dormitory or see their girlfriends. This includes dressing in drag and scaling the wall on each other's shoulders, with Bubba on the top of their pathetic pyramid. Their trespassing complicates matters for Chris and Jim because it brings Jim one step closer to the devious Jordan.

That's pretty much the entire plot. Two teens trying to keep their relationship afloat before senior year ends and they get away to a cheesy hotel to lose their virginity. Now for the qualities and attention to detail that actually turn this typical story into an absurd comedy. First are the names of supporting characters, such as the head mistress, Ms. Dutchbok, nicknamed by the girls as Ms. Douchebag. I know it's cheesy and simple, but I really love it when writers - or whoever's job it is - twist the English language just enough to be suggestive, if not a tad witty. Then there is the current mistress of Jordan's playboy father, Birdie Fallmouth. A better example is in The Maltese Falcon where the woman in distress is Mrs. Wonderlay. You get the picture. Second, and perhaps most important, is the nudity, which, in every instance, is completely uncalled for and therefore hilarious. I don't mean a few chest shots either, I'm talking full frontal nudity, shower scenes, girls riding topless on horses, teachers falling into pools dressed, of course, in white. It just keeps going. Even the video game at the arcade the boys frequent is called "The Score," where you press buttons fast enough and you eventually "turn on" and "score" with the game, which talks to you like it’s a call-girl while you're playing.

Last are the unsubtle switches the camera has from a fast-paced farce to a supposedly emotional moment between characters that looks like a '80s music video. You'll see Chris and Jim in a ridiculous montage going through a tough time in their relationship. The sequence is all in soft-focus and has them looking constipated, or in some other kind of distress, as music plays softly and they daydream about one another. It could not have been intended, but it is this level of cheesiness that had me in stitches. Oddly enough, two of these love songs were sung by Phoebe Cates for the soundtrack, during her short double-career as an actress and singer/songwriter. All of these qualities make it a must see—if not for a good laugh, then for the pleasure of seeing a romantic comedy that was blown way out of proportion.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 17, 2011 6:11pm
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