By Darren Johnson
There are lots of great movies coming to Netflix this December, from this year’s “Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War” to 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop” to 1989’s “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” to the recent homage to the late Leonard Nimoy, “For the Love of Spock.”
But none of the 100 new entries to the service this holiday season is better than 1978’s “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” definitely the best college comedy of all time, and some would suggest the best comedy film ever.
It may be “new to you” because this film isn’t a regular anymore on the premium channels, and the most risque parts get cut out when this airs on regular cable. This movie deserves to be seen as it was originally made, without commercial interruptions. Now you can do just that, via your Netflix stream all month.
You’ve likely heard a lot about the comedy genius of original “SNL” cast member John Belushi. Well, this movie is his breakout performance. As Bluto Blutarsky, a drunken student on the seven-year plan, he raises a movie, which could have merely been nostalgic, to an all-time great level.
Whenever the John Landis-directed movie starts slipping into a tone of comfortable reminiscing, Blutarsky saves the day with some outlandish behavior. It’s a sure thing this movie would not have been universally great without Belushi’s crazy contribution.
You see, in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a fond nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s, before the Vietnam and hippie era, and many movies and TV shows – “Porky’s,” “Happy Days,” “Grease” and “Stand By Me,” for example – catered to the very large Baby Boom generation, that was buying movie tickets and watching broadcast TV at the time. It gets confusing, really, as now it’s nearly 40 years later, but the movies are set nearly 60 years ago. A new viewer of these films may think they are set in “real time,” meaning when the movie was made – not 20 years prior.
(It’s like when my young daughter asked me if I had been friends with the “Little Rascals” as a kid, and if the world was in black-and-white during my youth. (By the way, the horrible 1994 color remake of “The Little Rascals” is also entering Netflix in December – please avoid it!).)
In any case, “Animal House” holds up because of its complex comedic setups, patient timing and, essentially, drunkenness will always be a universal theme.
Yes, there are moments that would today be considered somewhat racist – for example, our all-white delinquents go to an all-black bar at the edge of town and get scared off – but, then again, is it racist or does it reflect the mindset of the early 1960s? And there are moments that are definitely problematic. At one point Pinto, played by Tom Hulce, gets an underage townie drunk and then weighs the pros and cons of taking advantage of that situation (he thankfully decides against date rape; though eventually does do something that today would get him on the sex-offender registry).
But the movie does reflect the party culture of many private colleges when many men attended to avoid being drafted. The relationship between the parties and the uptight and smarmy student government and ROTC members is also captured well, along with the town-and-gown politics between the unforgettable Dean Wormer (John Vernon) and the town’s corrupt big-fish mayor.
Having spoken to a lot of college alumni from that era, and studied the growth of colleges similar to the fictional Faber College, I can tell you that “Animal House” is wiser than its toga parties, peeping toms and cafeteria food fights. It’s a politically incorrect moment in time that may never exist again, but just because it’s bawdy doesn’t mean it should be avoided.
If you want a voyeuristic look at what college was like (for some) back before we all got distracted by smart phones, Starbucks and PlayStation, queue up this all-time classic. Just don’t consider it an instruction manual for this day and age.
Started seven years ago, “It’s New to You!” was the first column to discover hidden gems on Netflix. Read more reviews at www.Nu2u.info.