By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
The year is 1945 and young Brooklynite Eugene Jerome (Matthew Broderick) has just entered military service. He arrives via troop-train in Biloxi Mississippi, where he and his fellow new recruits will undergo boot camp. It is here that he meets Sgt. Toomey (Christopher Walken), an authoritarian drill Sergeant who waists no time in picking Eugene as his personal target. Eugene resolves to record his experiences in a journal, as he has plans to become a writer.
Matthew Broderick’s boyish innocence in his looks and voice are perfect for portraying the naive, but open-minded Eugene Jerome. A Jewish Northerner set forth on the deep south for the first time, the experiences he has are akin to entering a whole other country.
Pictured above: not Brooklyn, New York
Based on the semi-autobiographical play by the Neil Simon, the story itself is a slice of Americana brought to life on the big screen, thanks to Director Mike Nichols. Nichols manages the often challenging feat of taking the simple presentation of a play and translating it to a bigger, more ambitious canvas, without losing the visceral impact of live theater.
Also laudable is the film’s subplot involving the discovery that several of the recruits are hiding homosexual proclivities. Addressing this challenging and complex issue to any degree at the time this film was released in the 1980s was a daring move. This was a time when the AIDs epidemic sent homophobic fear and hatred to unprecedented levels, thanks to the rise of the religious right.
Pictured above: the reason America can’t have nice things.
Christopher Walken’s role as the domineering drill Sergeant is perfectly played. Sgt. Toomey sees the secret to discipline as playing his recruits off of each other. Whenever he sees the need to punish a soldier, he punishes everyone else instead, knowing that it will quickly motivate team spirit among the men.
Although Mike Nichols clearly set out to recapture the feeling of live theater, some of the slick comedic writing does not translate very well into film. Some of the dialogue would have benefited from receiving a re-tooling in order to time it better to the unique rhythms of cinema. With that said, there are more hits than misses with the dialogue, so it isn’t a complete loss.
A few brief moments in the film reek of sweetened sentimentalism. Granted, this is to be expected with any coming of age story, but the best ones are able to keep this from becoming so obvious. Partially to blame is the narration by Broderick, which sometimes muses a bit too affectionately.
A unique and sharply witty coming of age story
Take a Drink: for every instance of anti-semitism or homophobia among the troops
Take a Drink: anytime Matthew Broderick acts naive
Do a Shot: anytime Christopher Walken punishes a recruit