Monday 13 July 2015

Movie Review: Class (1983)

A high school sex comedy, Class boasts a remarkable cast and appears intent on exploring some serious issues before getting lost in a tonal no-man's land.

Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy) is a new senior student at the exclusive all-boys Vernon Academy somewhere in New England. His roommate is the fun-loving "Skip" (Rob Lowe), who comes from a rich and established family. After trading painfully embarrassing pranks, Jonathan and Skip become good friends.

Skip encourages the tentative Jonathan to take a weekend trip to Chicago to gain confidence in his dealings with women. Jonathan does so, and to his surprise meets and starts a torrid sexual affair with the much older Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset). Having a mature woman as a lover changes Jonathan, as he gains immeasurably in confidence and becomes one of the most popular boys at Vernon. But when Christmas break arrives and Jonathan heads off to meet Skip's family, he is in for a huge shock.

Directed by Lewis John Carlino, Class struggles to define itself. The film spends a lot of time on routine campus high-jinx inspired by Animal House and its countless imitators. But gradually the narrative shifts uncomfortably towards the complications stemming from a sex drenched relationship between a younger man and an older woman. Serious themes are suddenly scattered across the screen. Lust is confused with love, troublesome stalking phone calls are introduced, and the loneliness of the emotionally abandoned rich wife emerges as a potential interesting plot line.

But the script by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt is capable of introducing weighty matters but proves clueless in dealing with them once hatched. Class stumbles into awkward territory where a host of unresolved ideas run headlong into a rudimentary comedy, and the mess ends with an embarrassing fist fight that reveals nothing except the limitation of the writing.

Andrew McCarthy (in his debut) and Rob Lowe do establish a credible rapport of friendship that builds during the film and adds a dose of interest. Jacqueline Bisset plays off her screen persona as a sexpot, here becoming the dream mature woman capable of transforming an adolescent into adulthood in one night.

The three principals are supported by a talented supporting crew, with John Cusack (also in his debut), Alan Ruck, Casey Siemaszko, Virginia Madsen and Joan Cusack appearing as students. Stuart Margolin is the mysterious mustached investigator who descends on the school late in the proceedings to uncover wrong-doings, and Cliff Robertson is Skip's father. It's an unusually deep cast for what is ultimately an underdeveloped and lightweight high school romp, and the surprisingly good acting talent set against the bumpy script adds to the film's identity crisis.

Class is not without its merits, but the curriculum is a most messy muddle.

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