Problematic Movies of the 80s | Class (1983)
I recall that, in the early 1980s, I had a teacher named Mrs. Schutler. God, did I have a crush on her! For some unexplained reason (likely she was paid to be there and was a really good teacher), she paid attention to me and didn’t treat me as an outcast. We had the same taste in movies, for the cry eye! For a class outing, we went to the Hutchinson Omnisphere and she decided we’d all go see a movie — I suggested Being There and she agreed. The story of a blessed idiot embraced as a genius philosopher in the Washington Seats of Power was both hysterical and moving. Everyone in my class hated it. She and I loved it and talked about it the entire bus ride home.
She and I were meant for each other but were separated by the fact that she was at least 20 years older than I, I was still a good five years from being legal and why the fuck would she abandon her husband and kid for a chunky, obnoxious pimple-farm teenager?
Luckily for me, someone in charge of 1980s zeitgeist was on the case. Private Lessons (1981), My Tutor (1983) and Playing with Fire (1984) were all films that spoke to me as a kid. Older, accomplished woman meets high school or early college kid and remarkably doesn’t exclaim “Agh. What a stink! The zits and your putrid feet!” but rather teaches him the intricate arts of lovemaking in random places. The one that truly stands out, however, was Class (1983).
Set in a boys’ private school and following an incredibly young and doughy Andrew McCarthy, the plot is really pretty simple as I recall. McCarthy gets Rob Lowe as a roommate. They bond over general boys’ bullshit: practical jokes, drugs, booze and “boys will be boys” sort of fun. McCarthy hooks up with Lowe’s mother (Jacqueline Bissett of the previous wet t-shirt in The Deep) and all hell breaks loose! I vaguely remember that Lowe and McCarthy have a big fight at the end and some subplot about cheating on SATs and an amazing seduction scene in a glass elevator.
Time to revisit this classic from my formative years…
Written by Jim Kouf & David Greenwalt
Directed by Lewis John Carlino
First off, when I saw this in the theater I had never been to Chicago. The entire thing is filmed in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Having now lived here for the past 30 years, it is odd to see — like a bizarre flashback to my city before I was around. Rush Street in particular looks much cleaner and less seedy despite the idea that the bar McCarthy goes to and meets Bissett is supposed to be kind of squirmy. Aforementioned elevator is the one in Water Tower Place complete with the comic security guard coming down in the other only to spy them humping in the other. Oh, yucks abound!
Second, the 16-year-old me likely thought the idea of an all-boys prep school sounded cool in that pre-frat way, but after slogging through real life (you know, the kind that doesn’t involve me making tons of money on the stock market) watching a bunch of highly privileged white boys hang out, play pranks on one another, pretend to smoke pipes but actually smoke a lot of weed and otherwise be the exact kind of guy currently sitting on SCOTUS is somehow less fun.
The idea that halfway through the film, we’re supposed to feel bad for Lowe because his dad (Cliff Robertson) is the kind of emotionally blocked, hyper-Alpha, Republican asshole who makes any multimillionaire family life horrible, falls flat. I can’t, in good conscious, feel anything but a low level disdain for his complaining that his home life is a freak show as he and McCarthy sit in a boat on a private lake drinking liquor that I couldn’t afford on my best day.
Given the subject matter, the script isn’t bad and, in general, the performances aren’t so bad. Seeing Lowe, McCarthy, John Cusack, Alan Ruck and Virginia Madsen as kids is sort of fun in a “Holy Fuck! We all got so Old!” perspective but, as an adult, there isn’t much to indicate prestige comedy.
Problematic Moments & Themes
The all-boys prep school thing is rough. Add to that, while less Porky’s in its pursuit of young women, the only nudity in a movie about Bissett having sex is not Bissett at all, but a comedic fallout as McCarthy screws up a dance committee meeting with the all-girls school and accidentally rips Madsen’s dress so we all get a solid shot of her right boob, which was both completely unnecessary and jarring. All I could think of was what that fucking audition was like (“Your character has to show her titty on screen so... um... can we see it?”)
There is exactly one black actor (Anna Maria Horsford) and she plays the maid in exactly one scene. Again, I don’t think every movie has to be ethnically diverse but the maid? Jesus.
Apparently, the character of Jonathan got into Harvard by cheating on his SATs and this is completely glossed over. Yes, the film isn’t about these privileged, rich dickheads getting away with things so they can go be powerbrokers, attorneys and politicians, but if you’re going to introduce it that he’s a fucking cheat, at least show some sort of consequence, right?
Robertson talks to his wife about her imagined neurosis and lectures her on how she should behave in one scene as if to explain her alcoholism and empathize with the fact that she eventually (off camera) checks herself into a mental hospital.
In terms of problematic elements, let’s see: a 39-year-old alcoholic picks up, fucks, then stalks an 18-year-old kid. Yes — she stalks him — once she realizes he’s just a wee tot with a working pud, she bails but then starts calling him (on a payphone) every night. Sure, he’s above the age of statutory rape so it’s not a rape thing but c’mon. The fact that the film glosses over her obvious illness as just an escape from a shit marriage but wholly ignores any other aspect of it is troubling. Imagine if Melania was found out to be rocking the world of some 18-year-old kid because she’s married to the human equivalent to Jabba the Hutt.
Did it Hold Up?
Not really. Not even close to as funny as it was when I was a kid and, from the lenses of both my age and 2018, this thing does not fair well. Worst is my now ingrained low-grade disgust with rich people. Not white people. Not rich white people. Rich people. This colors my view of these people in this movie more than almost anything which, I guess is appropriate given it’s called Class.
Scale of 1 to 10
1 = Classic
10 = Burn all VHS copies of it
Class gets a 7
NOTE: I’m starting to see a trend here. I’ll admit, I began this to see if what the SJW crowd was saying was correct — that the pop culture of my youth was part of the problem with the retrograde and misogynist, racist and otherwise deplorable attitudes displayed by say, a Trump or a Kavanaugh. I have a number more to watch and write about but, at this early stage, they may have a point.
Next up: Risky Business (1983)