This should make some of you feel old and question what you’ve accomplished since graduation: Old School turns 10 this Thursday. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it’s been around that long since you really started appreciating it on DVD, which played on a loop in your first off-campus apartment that you shared with your buds. But yep, the movie debuted in theaters February 21, 2003, coming in second at the box office behind the surprisingly steady Daredevil. And while it never reached #1 or made it to $100 million at the box office or wound up winning any major accolades (it was nominated for two MTV Movie Awards), it’s definitely one of the most memorable releases of that year and one of the most influential comedies of the decade – if not the most.
And if you were in college around the time it came out, you should take a decade-later look. I can attest that it’s particularly hilarious if you’re in your mid to late 20s and still trying to hold on to your youth (as I was then) and even funnier once you’re in your mid to late 30s and married with a baby and nostalgic about those days thankful you’ve come so far since then. Let’s have a little reunion with Old School by watching a few favorite clips. Maybe later we’ll celebrate the anniversary by going streaking to Bed, Bath and Beyond if we have time.
Are there any wives who appreciate this scene as much as the husbands do? And are there any men who don’t think of Will Ferrell’s lines when telling his buddies that he’s got big weekend plans to go to Home Depot or any other grown-up “chore” based establishment? While it’s not nice to make fun of people with drinking problems and cheer their lack of willpower or their chance for a relapse, Frank should be viewed as a cartoon character through which we’re allowed to laugh for the sake of satirizing marriage, men and maturity. He’s a way to identify our own fears about marriage and our own desires as guys and then see the ridiculously extreme situations he winds up in as a result of fulfilling our wishes, such as in the next scene…
“We’re Going Streaking!”
If we’re able to take a second to stop looking at Ferrell’s squishy buttocks and forget about the Snoop Dogg name jokes, consider this that punchline to the satire set-up mentioned above. As for the nudity, it’s rather common to now see Ferrell’s backside or near-nude hairy body in movies, just as it’s now common to see him on fire (as in his mascot moment in this film), and it’s common to see him do a lot of other things seen first here (or perfected first here). And the funniest part of the nudity in my opinion isn’t from Ferrell, it’s from the actresses in the SUV, particularly the friends in the back seat when Frank gets in with them (sadly the video below cuts just before this).
Pledge Round Up
I might be the only one who thinks this, but the pledge kidnapping montage is one of the greatest choreographed comedy sequences ever. Look at the blocking and mise-en-scene in some of these shots, none of which you’d think are deserving of such careful framing. Favorites of mine include the shot of “Spanish” (Rick Gonzalez) scootering in the foreground with the van skidding out in the background. There’s also the bit when Gonzalez is tackled into the fountain – we’re led to believe the camera following behind him is the POV of his pursuer, which makes the gag more sudden and effective for a guy to jump into the shot from the left of the screen. And the pickup of “Blue” (Patrick Cranshaw) is also done well with its right-to-left motion of the van. Meanwhile, there’s also the whole joke about Blue being a pledge, exaggerating the film’s primary situation of older guys starting a fraternity even further (exaggeration=comedy). Luke Wilson asking if he’s a little old to be a pledge is not laugh-out-loud funny but it’s still a great straight-man joke. Obviously I’ve thought way too much about this sequence. It just makes me smile. It also makes me upset that given this montage Todd Phillips didn’t go on to direct an action movie.
The Dan Band Performs “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
One of the many ways that Todd Phillips has too often repeated himself is with his casting of The Dan Band in any scene that might allow for a live act. But even if the idea of an inappropriately crass wedding/bar mitzvah band wasn’t easily overdone, Dan Finnerty’s group would still be best remembered for their profane rendition of Bonnie Howard’s classic power ballad. They’ve never topped the tune, at least not on screen, in part for the way the first “fucking” takes both the audience and the newly married couple (Ferrell and Reeves) surprise at the same time. It is impossible to listen to (or sing along with) “Total Eclipse of the Heart” now without our mind (or tongue) slipping in the swears. And we don’t mind. It’s still pretty funny.
Ferrell vs. Carville
This debate scene might owe so much to both Animal House and Billy Madison that it’s not truly interesting or amusing. But for me you can’t really go wrong with a cameo from “the Ragin’ Cajun.” The gag of having Frank black-out recite a perfect argument is just a light streak of frosting on the cake.
Cinderblock Through the Manhole Tearing at the Manhood
And, finally, of course, there are a lot of great scenes that don’t require much thought. They’re just old school slapstick mixed with new school cringe comprised of pain to penises and some humor involving fat people falling far and hard. The manhole thing, though, is so idiotically brilliant, a throwback to one of the oldest gags in cinema. Yet silent comedies never had so many butts – old ones, young ones, large ones and ethnic ones. If only Fatty Arbuckle ever did a bit with a block tied to his junk.