Capsule Review Collection

Keggers, Classrooms & Conflict: College Life on Film

by Jacqueline BorwickAccepted12015 saw Richard Linklater receive an Oscar nomination as well as an award for Best Director at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards for his directorial contribution on Boyhood. His latest project is about life a little after the period of boyhood, and is set on a college campus. The film is titled Everybody Wants Some!! and stars Blake Jenner as Jake, a college freshman trying to find his way among a rowdy bunch of baseball players in the 1980s. And in typical fashion, Jake may also discover a love interest along the way. The college campus has proved a useful setting in many wonderful movies, as it’s a place where the most unexpected, awkward, and adventurous things can happen. In that spirit, we re-introduce some classics of the college genre, including a few contemporary favorites.

Legally Blonde posterLegally Blonde (Luketic, 2001)
In Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon portrays Elle Woods, a perky and witty young woman who is obsessed with all things pink. Witherspoon plays the stereotypical idea of a sorority girl, but brings more boldness, spirit and courage to her character. After she’s completely blindsided by her boyfriend publicly dumping her, Elle follows him to Harvard Law School in an effort to win him back. But she doesn’t just show up; she applies to study there. Surprisingly, Elle is accepted to Harvard, as it turns out that she is a lot sharper than she likes to let on. She effortlessly adjusts to this new environment with her bubbling personality, and is able to change some people’s clouded judgment of her — judgment based on her stereotypical appearance as a dumb blonde, which is juxtaposed with her genuine intelligence. While she gives up her intention to win back her boyfriend, Elle ultimately discovers her passion for law and is able to come into her own, emerging stronger and with a newfound sense of independence on the other side. Witherspoon is at her absolute character-driven best in this hilarious movie, which is the quintessential early 2000’s flick.

Rudy posterRudy (Anspaugh, 1993)
An astonishing true story, this film introduces Rudy (Sean Astin), a young undergraduate, who goes above and beyond to have the chance to play college football at his dream school: Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is not an easy place to make the grade. It has one of the country’s most successful football teams and a team song “The Fighting Irish” designed to make clear to their competitors that their strategies will not constitute a gentlemen’s game. Rudy’s ambitions are undermined left and right, but he perseveres against all odds, including those he imposes on himself. To achieve his dream, he defiantly dismisses the idea that he can’t play because he doesn’t have the classic tall, strong build of a typical football player. A classic underdog story, this film displays how success is often just a matter of refusing failure. Astin does a stellar job of playing this character in an understated way, making the viewer believe in the authenticity of his dream.

Sydney White posterSydney White (Nussbaum, 2007)
This film stars Amanda Bynes in her prime as a sorority pledge who hopes to get accepted into the same sorority that her late mother attended while at the same college. The acting president of the sorority house, Rachel (Sara Paxton), establishes an environment in which very little individuality is allowed. Sydney White (Bynes), with her tomboyish-quirkiness, sticks out like a sore thumb. This minor imbalance in the structure of the sorority doesn’t at all please Rachel, and the pair butt heads right from their initial meeting. White’s often candid and unapologetic approach to living creates a dichotomy for those who feel bound by the old ways but intrigued by Sydney’s lively spirit. There have been quite a few films featuring Greek life as a centerpiece, but this one doesn’t rely as heavily on the humor factor to support itself as others of the same genre have, although it does employ this technique to a degree. What makes it successful is its balance of comedy and romance, creating a fresh and modern take on the classic story of Snow White. It’s also a new spin on pledging a sorority, taking the perspective of a first-year female college student trying to discover herself while still holding onto the memory of her mother.

Higher Learning posterHigher Learning (Singleton, 1995)
While this is not a lighthearted college romp, it is certainly worth a viewing. Higher Learning takes on a multitude of issues faced by college students. Classes and grades have their place, but most importantly racism, relationship drama, and eventually assault and suicide are addressed. At the fictional Columbus University, students of different backgrounds are brought together, bonded by their similar experiences of injustice, revolving around the ugliness of racism. Each of them is trying to find themselves while dealing with their own day to day struggles inside and outside of the classroom, all the while surrounded by acts of discrimination. Released in the mid-90s, the movie is heavy, but remains relevant today on campuses across the country where students have recently been outspoken in demanding changes to what they perceive as institutionalized racism.

Accepted posterAccepted (Pink, 2006)
In this 2006 gem, Justin Long plays Bartleby Gaines, a prospective college student down on his luck after he is repeatedly rejected by every school he applies to. With the support of his friends, he does the unthinkable and decides to open his own university so he has some place to give the impression that he’s attending college. But the viewer knows better, of course. His plan starts off surprisingly well, but eventually goes awry after people start believing his lie and apply to his fake university. After a computer glitch occurs within the system used to corroborate the existence of the university, students who were rejected from other schools immediately become enrolled in his institution. Trying to imitate the college lifestyle, Bartleby does a multitude of things, including creating an open curriculum plan, establishing a student newspaper, and developing the idea for a mascot. In a certain way, this film reveals the somewhat corrupt nature that exists within the college system and sheds a light on the importance of being able to study and experiment with your passions instead of following the status quo. While it can be highly predictable at times and doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking from the viewer, Accepted is able to redeem itself with plenty of laughs and a charming cast supported by Blake Lively and pre-Superbad Jonah Hill.

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