You know the drill. This was a review I wrote originally on Letterboxd, one of the few social media networks that I don’t consider brain poison (yet). I’m sharing it here because I’m compulsive and there’s a lot of momentum with this blog posting streak, and I’m not tired of it (yet).
The kesseljunkie Review of With Honors (1994)
This is another film that I’ve watched for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party podcast network. We’re marching through 1994, and by golly, this movie came out then.
The premise of the movie is anodyne; a homeless guy living in the basement of a Harvard library gets possession of a thesis paper that a student happens to drop down a grate with a perfectly-placed pratfall. You roll with it.
Naturally, they have to come to terms where the homeless guy holds his thesis hostage in exchange for basic living comforts. Along the way, he naturally spreads the wisdom earned from a hard life to leads our protagonist to question whether graduating with honors is all that important.
Never mind he’s graduating from Harvard. It’s most important to him to graduate with honors.
This is one of the most challenging parts with the movie. It’s not that his graduation or livelihood are ever actually in peril. It’s just that he won’t have that extra feather for his cap. It seems such a marvelously whiny place to put your protagonist.
One interesting side note is how optimistic he is about the impact of technology on the trajectory of the fundamentals of US government. He’s also marvelously wrong about another thing, but then that’s just me getting on my soapbox.
I also realized that With Honors, released during the same Gen X existential crisis wave that birthed “Reality Bites” and “Threesome,” is part of a cultural tectonic shift in how movies treated college as a whole. I’m sure plenty of other people have written about this, but maybe I’ll write more about it on my blog at a later time. Or talk about it on a podcast. Who knows?
What I do know is that this movie comes apart in the back half. The setup is expected-but-clean, and the conclusion never gels. It’s also too heavy for its own good, while still delivering a happy-go-lucky bland band of kids ready to go out in the world and do bland things.
The entire cast feels like they’re struggling to give the movie as much impact as they can, but are constrained by the material itself. It plateaus early and treads water until the end. As a result, the emotional “punch” is more of a “tap.” Madonna’s song on the end credits has more pathos, by comparison.
Oddly enough, I had a much better experience with another college movie released the same week, PCU…but that’s a story for another time.
While I had a passing interest in this movie in 1994, 25 years goes by in a flash. What can you do? Fortunately RetroPerspective gave me the opportunity to revisit and finally see what I’d been missing. It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t terrible.