Back to School was a vehicle for comedian Rodney Dangerfield to do what he did best. Make a huge splash, crack jokes, and champion the plight of the common man. Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a self-made wealthy man who owns a chain of Big and Tall retail stores. But despite his success, he never did well in high school and never attended college. His son, Jason Melon (Keith Gordon), is a freshman at Great Lakes University but is struggling with a C average and wants to drop out of school. When his father, Thornton, pays him a surprise visit he tells his dad that he didn’t make the diving team or get into the fraternity and his only friend is his anti-social roommate, Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.). Thornton convinces his son Jason to stay in school, by deciding that he too will enroll and go to school with him.
After a hefty donation for the new Melon School of Business, Thornton is admitted as a freshman and he moves in with his son and Derek. Like most freshmen, he doesn’t bother to study and spends most of his time partying and trying to date his English Professor Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman).
The best thing about Back to School is Rodney Dangerfield. His facial expressions and perfectly timed one-liners keep the viewer chuckling throughout the entire hour and half running time. Some of his best lines are:
- “You look like you’re wearing a pool table.”
- “The only Greek I know is a coffee shop on State Street.”
- “Why don’t you call me sometime when you’re out of class?”
- “During sex, she screams out her own name.”
- “Oh, I love three girls at once. If I fall asleep they have someone to talk to.”
And his most famous catchphrase, “I don’t get no respect.”
Some praise must also be given to the musical score. It’s original music by Danny Elfman and its upbeat tempo helps to tie in the opening of the film to the turning point in the film, when Thornton finally decides to hit the books and prepare for his oral exam.
Like a lot of 80’s movies, the biggest problem with Back to School is plot oriented. One moment Thornton is visiting his son at college for an unannounced visit, and the next minute he decides to enroll in college. The transition for Thornton to say he’ll go to school with Jason is out of nowhere and is extremely forced. I get that it’s a necessary plot-point, but it’s not grounded in any type of logic. Who’s going to run his multimillion dollar retail company over the next four years? To say that Back to School has a small hole would be like comparing the Grand Canyon Crevice to the hole in a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
The diving stunts in Back to School are slightly better than those performed by six-year olds in the guppy class at the local YMCA. The transitions from Jason and Thornton to their stunt doubles are so egregious and obvious they made me cringe worse than when Greg Louganis hit his head on the springboard at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Back to School is like a light fluffy popcorn. It doesn’t taste like much, but it will temporarily fill you up and distract you from eating right out of the Haagen-Dazs container. Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick never gets old and always delivers some laughs.
Take a Drink: every time Thornton Melon is wearing plaid or primary colored pants.
Take a Drink: every time Thornton Melon says, “Take it easy, take it easy. Will you?”
Take a Shot: when you spot a cameo by the following three 80’s D-list stars:
- Jason Hervey, mostly known for playing Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years
- William Zabka, mostly known for playing Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid (Warning: this one may repeat)
- Edie McClurg, mostly known for playing Mrs. Poole on Valerie, Bonnie Brindle on Small Wonder, and Grace in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Shogun a Beer: when Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. shows up to write Thornton’s term paper.