Anyone who considers themselves a comedy movie fan likely has a big space in their heart for flicks of the 80s. Across the board they possess a distinguishable, light charm we simply don't see anymore. They're perhaps our greatest cinematic resource when in need of breezy escape, or old comfort. The 80s gifted us a lengthy, diverse list of goofy flicks and great comedies - some of them duds, others passable, and quite a few so fantastically influential they changed the course of crafting funny. Let's not tiptoe around the almost fact: The 1980s brought us comedy classics.
Beneath the classics is a goldmine of minor classics, cult hits, and obscure capers that hardly have an audience but should. We're examining some of those flicks, individually and in-depth, in a series called Sleeper Comedies Of The 1980s.
How does this catch you: A late 80s, smart teen comedy that's John Hughes-ish in feel and Tim Burton-like in inventiveness, with a few sight gags and other absurdities wedged in. If you're anywhere above indifference, you may have a good time with How I Got Into College, the first flick in this Sleeper Comedies Of the 80s series.
How I Got Into College is a high on charm, wacky little number from director Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) that follows various Michigan high school students along their college application process, intertwined with the increasingly tumultuous disagreement among an admissions team at a small Pennsylvania college to which several of our main characters are applying.
Marlon (Corey Parker) isn't a great student or popular personality, nor is he involved in anything that might make a college application desirable. The love of his life, Jessica (Lara Flynn Boyle,) is a bright, driven cheerleader who has her sights set on Ramsey College, a (fictional) small school in Pennsylvania that's strong on academics. Despite having had few interactions with Jessica, timid dork Marlon is determined to follow her to Ramsey.
Kip (Anthony Edwards) and his girlfriend Nina (Finn Carter) work in admissions for Ramsey, and believe in granting opportunities and scholarships to the less remarkable or well-to-do high school students who show potential. This works in Marlon's favor, as he's not only fighting to get accepted into Ramsey, but also working to convince Jessica to follow through with applying after she has a disastrous interview during a campus visit, on top of a growing feeling of inadequacy. Meanwhile, Kip and Nina are dealing with preventing the entire Ramsey admissions process from being taken over by a dickish character named Leo (Charles Rocket,) who would rather admit only Ivy league-standard kids from wealthy families.
As evidenced by the beginnings of a summary, there's a lot going on in How I Got Into College. It isn't your straightforward journey following one teen, or a specific group of kids. Though the focus is on Marlon and Jessica; their anxieties, family relationships, and developing connection, we see several students and their varying paths to college acceptance.
Ronny Rawlson (Duane Davis) is a high school football standout in Detroit, who's being bombarded with promises of free luxury housing, stock portfolios, and retirement plans for his dad from the biggest sports schools across the country. His gold-digging girlfriend Theresa (Vernetta R. Jenkins) and opportunistic father are pushing Ronny where the most luxuries are being offered. Ramsey's football program, headed by an always enjoyable Brian Doyle Murray as Coach Evans, has a history of nothing spectacular, but Coach sends Nina off to Detroit to attempt recruiting Ronny anyway.
Nina's up front with Ronny, his father, and girlfriend about Ramsey's mediocre football program and inability to shower him with gifts, but she does suggest Ronny consider Ramsey if he wants to be challenged academically. After dismissing herself, Nina's struck by another student, whose focus on her studies and fiery personality show promise. Nina meets Vera (Tichina Arnold) who is neither privileged nor a fantastic student, though she works long hours at McDonald's after school to support her mother and expresses a desire to genuinely grow and find her path. Vera and her family develop a sweet relationship with Nina, who battles her hardest alongside Kip to maintain their say in who's granted opportunities by Ramsey; thus give our big cast of main characters a shot at furthering themselves.
These minor character storylines, though contrived and teetering on corny, add additional heart to the warmth already emitting from Marlon and Jessica as they mature and take risks individually and as a gradually forming couple. Perhaps I'm a sap, but it's a joy to see an anxious, unremarkable geek like Marlon find a bit of swagger, fight for an out-of-his league love, and discover the usefulness of his creative gifts. Call me a goddamn cornball, but it also lights my spirit watching as Jessica overcomes her relatable and strangely well-depicted fear of being average. And hey, it's possible I'm a freakin' absolutely pussy, but a team like Kip and Nina, who want a welcoming university for all walks of life and not another Ivy-league boy's club, warm my underpants.
How I Got Into College has heart, forced as it may come off in moments, and that lightly touching charm is enough to make a flick watchable. Fortunately, the heart here isn't even half the entertainment value. How I Got Into College is an inventively funny little force that's hipper and wilder than you would expect it to be. On the surface it may appear like another sappy high school comedy in the vein of John Hughes, which could explain why it originally and forever flew under the radar. Just as the plot's surprisingly layered, though, the film's comedic arsenal is deeper than that of most 80s teen films.
How I Got Into College, in classic Savage Steve Holland fashion, veers carefully but erratically between sincere and straight-laced, and off-the-wall absurd. Moments of hokey genuineness are followed by strange bits that stir laughs or serve the good purpose of being weird. Savage Steve is crafty in how he illustrates teens' nagging paranoias.
Marlon's anxiety manifests in the visualization of life as a standardized test, where the answers "A" and "B" are personified as two tiny geeks who argue and repeatedly injure themselves in slapstick disasters. As I transcribe the bit it sounds lame, but a few of the "A and B" gags draw unexepected laughs.
In one notably neat scene that exudes Tim Burton imaginativeness, Jessica's worry before a meeting with Ramsey's dean spirals her into a nightmarish vision of a waiting room filled with look-alikes - everyday Midwestern girls in skirts and Reeboks; hair done in the same way as Jessica's. She looks around with the crushing fear of being nobody special, while attention shifts to several hilariously accomplished and sought after students waiting along with the crew of basics. Savage Steve conjures an out-of-body strange that may not have directly influenced later comedies, though later comedies do incorporate a similar brand of odd.
As with any comedy film of the 80s, this one has its misses and groaners, but they're usually bold gags that show someone was at least aiming for zanier than the norm. It isn't making any "funniest movies" lists. It is, however, a refreshing kind of quirky that's integral to Savage Steve Holland films (and I try my best to avoid using "quirky.") If goofy deviations from standard teen fare don't excite you, How I Got Into College boasts fun appearances from the likes of Richard Jenkins, Bill Raymond, Taylor Negron, and others, in addition to a silly Phil Hartman cameo as an overly dedicated SAT coach.
Those who have a general love for 80s comedies will surely take a liking to How I Got Into College, and 80s teen comedy fans specifically might find a new love first-watch. Even mere comedy people who prefer matters more offbeat will be surprised by the wit and imagination on display. How I Got Into College is more than the middle-of-the-road 80s high school comedy it looks to be at a glance. It has its corny cliches and moments of feigned heart, but the peculiar comedic instincts through which Savage Steve Holland brings this comedy to life more than make up for groan-worthy sap. The script's original. The actors range from "there" to fun. Savage Steve brings cleverness to a rather stale genre that I think pleases both fans of the genre and those who just want a funny comedy. There isn't much about How I Got Into College to gush over, but there's a lot to like, and 80s Comedy Heads would leave destiny unfulfilled if they continued on without having it seen it . Check out this 1989 sleeper on Prime, or other places!