A recent study indicated that every single person in the United States will see Animal House an average of 7.37 times over the course of their lifetime. Okay, I made that up. But it sounds at least somewhat plausible, doesn’t it?
That’s why, for today’s topic, we are going to look at movies about college that aren’t Animal House (which I love, by the way). Going off to college is a huge moment in a person’s life. It’s the first time you are with people with whom you share something other than your family or your neighborhood. My kids grew up in Los Angeles and all of them went off to college in other environments—San Francisco, the Midwest, and all the way to the East Coast—so we’ve experienced that rite of passage in our house. Here are my favorite films about that bittersweet transition.
This is the story of the last night in small town California for two local guys (young Ron Howard and young Richard Dreyfuss) before they go off to Middlebury College in Vermont. It’s good to see this movie for several reasons. First of all, it’s a smartly-told and bittersweet comic tale. Second, this movie has one of the greatest soundtracks ever. PLUS, it’s an ambient soundtrack, meaning the songs in the movie are heard coming out of car radios and jukeboxes, not played over the action of the movie. Finally, this movie reminds you that at one point George Lucas knew how to tell a cogent story and make a good movie.
A couple of nerds go off to college and major in computer science. They get bullied by some arrogant jocks, can’t seem to meet the right people, and end up stuck with a bunch of other nerds, preventing them from ever meeting cool women. In The Social Network version of this story, the nerds go on to found Facebook and become backstabbing billionaires. In Revenge of the Nerds, they just outwit the jocks and win the pretty girls. I prefer this version of the story. It has a fabulous cast that includes Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Timothy Busfield (you won’t recognize him!), Curtis Armstrong, John Goodman, and James Cromwell.
This is a tremendously charming movie about making the drumline and continuing the tradition of extravagant marching bands at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Nick Cannon plays a young hotshot drummer from New York who struggles to fit into the drumline at the fictional Atlanta A&T University. Zoe Saldana and Orlando Jones co-star. The film is directed by Charles Stone III; a fun piece of trivia about Stone is that he created the famous “Whasssup?” advertising campaign for Budweiser.
Set in Los Angeles, this moving and involving drama follows a middle-aged lesbian couple (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) and their two teenage children leading settled, peaceful lives, until they meet the children’s sperm donor, a callow L.A. restaurateur played brilliantly by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo’s appearance and subsequent involvement in the family nearly destroys their marriage. In the end, the family somehow holds together, and they all take the daughter off to college. This movie is for any parent who has taken a child to college and felt the mixture of pride and sadness that such a day brings. As I said to one of my daughters when I dropped her off, “Well, this costs me more than having you at home, but on the other hand, I don’t get to ever see you. So that sucks. Have a great time.” Maybe not my finest moment as a father. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko from the script she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Screenwriter Kay Cannon is a wildly successful TV writer with credits on 30 Rock and New Girl. Her screenplay for Pitch Perfect is based on the nonfiction book about what seems like the dullest college initiation rite possible (joining a competitive a capella singing group), and turns it into a witty, amusing, and delightful musical. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and you’ll find yourself singing along. Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson have outstanding comic performances as well.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.