BACK TO SCHOOL may be the defining example low-brow, unapologetic, but crazily heartwarming comedy that ruled the 80s.
Rodney Dangerfield plays Thorton Melon, a sad millionaire who just split up with his no good, cheating wife and decides to get his spirits up by visiting his son at college. The kid, Jason, wants to quit. No girls are interested, he didn’t make the team’s beloved diving team, he doesn’t fit in anywhere and his only friend is his weird roommate (a great early turn for good ol’ RDJ).
Thorton has the perfect solution: He’ll attend the prestigious Grand Lakes University in the hopes that some support will help Jason get through. As you would expect hijinks ensue.
This star vehicle for Dangerfield is a perfect fit for the brilliant comedian. The sets up are easy, the jokes are plenty and the world of GLU has endless possibilities. What other university puts its always losing diving team on a pedestal? Or allows a Vietnam vet with deep PTSD (the always loud and red-faced Sam Kinison) teach contemporary American history?
Add in a pretentious economics professor as the villain and make part of the climax a very unimportant diving meet that includes the mythical Triple Lindy dive and you can quickly see how someone with Dangerfield’s intelligent silliness is right at home.
But the part that always sticks out with BACK TO SCHOOL for me is the father-son relationship. Thorton Melon may just be the best dad in any 80s comedy and it’s really great to see that his son knows it right from the start instead of being that douchey college kid whose father doesn’t understand him that we see in every movie.
And almost every scene contains at least five Dangerfield one-liners (“just remember, the best thing about kids... is making them!”) and has so much manic energy that random appearances by Oingo Boingo and Kurt Vonnegut feel downright normal. This anarchic funhouse makes BACK TO SCHOOL classic, pure comedy at its finest.
Its laughs are plenty and its heart is big. Most comedies today rely so much on cynicism and irony. BACK TO SCHOOL just wants you to laugh and have a good time. What a novel idea! (R.J. LaForce)