Monday, November 18, 2013


This movie was not a box office success (Wikipedia)

Who cares what Wikipedia says? So this movie didn’t make money at the box office. Ok, so? That doesn’t make this lost gem any less great! How I Got Into College should be preserved in a time capsule. It captures so many things that were great about random movies from the late 80's. The credits are made up of an all-star line-up from that era: Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead), Anthony Edwards & Curtis Armstrong (Revenge Of The Nerds), Brian Doyle Murray, Phil Hartman & Nora Dunn (all classic SNL cast members from the 80's). The supporting cast is also made up of some great character actors like Philip Baker Hall, Richard Jenkins & O-Lan Jones. This is the kind of film that makes me wonder why they don't have an Oscar category for best ensemble cast.
How I Got Into College is one of those movies most peole kinda remember half watching back in the day but don't remember the title or any of the actor's names. It's understandable that a small comedy like this wouldn't stand the test of time like other movies released in the same year (Do The Right Thing, Tim Burton's Batman, The Seventh Continent, Sex, Lies & Videotape, Mystery Train, Drugstore Cowboy, etc) but no matter how older I get or how many new movies I discover, How I Got Into College always stays fresh with me.

Between the late 80's through the early 90's, there were a string of movies with a unique, quirky, slightly twisted dark sense of humor that just don't exist in cinema anymore like. Movies like; Meet The Applegates, Freaked, Parents, Twister (no, not that Twister), Moving, Fear Anxiety & Depression, Shakes The Clown, Heathers and How I Got In To College (my favorite movie out of the bunch). These were the kinds of movies that messed with me (in a good way) as a little boy because they were brightly colored with a light atmosphere yet the subject matter & humor was a bit twisted (suicide, dysfunctional families, cannibalism, creepy clowns, etc). I use to stay up late at night when I was 8 & 9 to watch these movies and I remember laughing at them but being confused at the same time. I was too young to really understand all the irony and dark humor but I knew something was funny about them. I was also too young to realize that a lot of these films were mashing up different genres before it was cool to do so. Parents was a horror/comedy/coming of age story, Freaked was a Cronenberg-esque body horror/comedy and Meet The Applegates was a mixture of science fiction, family drama & dark humor. There's also little elements that tie all these movies together. Some of the same actors can be found in a few of these; Randy Quaid (Parents, Moving & Freaked), Tom Kenny (Shakes The Clown & How I Got In To College), Phill Lewis (Heathers & How I Got In To College), etc. And half of these movies are directly influenced by David Lynch's Blue Velvet in that they go beyond the white picket fences and show the hidden dark side of small-town America (Parents, Heathers & Meet The Applegates).
There's still little strands of this humor found in cinema today - Bobcat Goldthwait, the man responsible for Shakes The Clown, went on to loosely remake/rip-off Heathers (Greatest Dad In The World).
I can’t say enough about late night cable TV programming between 1988 through 1992. Growing up in western Massachusetts we didn’t have anything like Z Channel or local indie TV stations. The closest thing I had to random, forgotten, underrated, slightly alternative movies was HBO, The Movie Channel & non-late night softcore Cinemax after 10pm. Sure these channels ran the same movies in to the ground during the prime time slots, but once late night hit, it’s like they gave all the programming responsibilities to lonely knowledgeable video store clerks. Not to sound old but, cable TV just isn't the same today. How do people discover/rediscover older movies now?

Savage Steve Holland will probably always be remembered for his work with John Cusack (Better Off Dead & One Crazy Summer) but I like to think How I Got In To College was the ultimate movie he was working towards even though it probably wasn’t. His movie-making career kinda went downhill after he made it. If you go back and watch Better Off Dead & One Crazy Summer, you can see some of that same randomly strange humor except it’s turned up a notch in How I Got In To College.

In the film we follow various high school seniors throughout the state of Michigan who are all trying to get in to the highly competitive school; Ramsey College. Although the story mostly focuses on two central people: "Marlon" (Corey Parker) & "Jessica" (Lars Flynn Boyle), the film branches off to other side characters like "Ronnie" (the high school jock), "Adam" (the rich privileged kid), and “Vera" (the struggling/working class teen). How I Got Into College is a bit unique in that it’s a strange mixture of satire yet it also takes itself serious. Savage Steve Holland puts in stereotypical high school characters (the smart Asians, the over-achiever, the jock, the average kid, etc) then at certain points in the film he breaks the fourth wall and pokes fun at it. But there's also just as many genuine moments of self discovery and coming of age for our characters which sets How I Got Into College apart from stuff like Not Another Teen MovieOrange County & Clueless. A lot of the comedy in this movie is absurd (intentionally over dramatized moments of self doubt, a college admissions officer who is obsessed with pigs, a student who exposes her chest during a college interview, etc) but a lot of the humor is also cliche & corny, yet it all manages to work out.
How I Got Into College also shows the other side of the college admissions process through the characters played by Anthony Edwards, Charles Rocket & Philip Baker Hall who are all on the admissions committee at Ramsey College.

Highlights in this movie include a great cameo from Curtis Armstrong (a Savage Steve Holland regular) as a Bible school professor, O-Lan Jones as a very strange receptionist and a creepy scene where Lara Flynn Boyle comes close to having a nervous breakdown during a college entrance interview.
Maybe I'm going a little too far by calling How I Got In To College a masterpiece but dammit there's something great about this movie! Sure, it holds a strong nostalgic quality for me and every time I watch it I'm reminded of my childhood and discovering random movies late at night while trying not to wake my parents up, but putting that aside, there's something unique about it. This served as an alternative to all the John Hughes brat pack movies that predated it. How I Got In To College wasn’t made for my generation (I was in elementary school, with college being the furthest thing from my mind, when I use to watch this movie) but when I think back, my high school experience was definitely closer to that of Marlon than the prototypes found in The Breakfast Club & 16 candles. Like Marlon, I didn’t have the best grades, my S.A.T. scores sucked, I panicked internally when I took tests, I took S.A.T. prep courses that did absolutely nothing to better my scores and I felt the pressure of getting in to college placed on me by society. I ultimately got into college because of all my extra-curricular activities and my one of a kind charm...just like Marlon (it damn sure wasn’t for my G.P.A.)

I wish I could recommend this to you all but it’s not on Netflix, I'm sure the DVD is out of print (I imagine most people wouldn’t want to pay the $12.99 for the DVD on Amazon) and most video stores that might have this are now out of business. I guess if you know me personally and happen to read this review, feel free to ask me to borrow it.


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