Posted by: steveonfilm | October 8, 2009

Real Genius

Most lists for the “best college movies” are pretty standard. You’ve got your “Animal House,” “Back to School,” “Road Trip,” “Old School,” “Van Wilder,” “PCU” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” Sometimes movies like “Rudy” and “With Honors” even slip in. But more often than not I see one movie consistently overlooked, “Real Genius,” and I find this a tragedy.

For those not in the know here is the trailer:

The trailer is slightly misleading since it makes the movie seems to be centered around Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), when it’s really centered around Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret). But the gist is that Mitch is recruited to join Pacific Tech (think Cal Tech) for their midwinter term to work on a state of the art laser project. While being introduced to college life (he’s only 15), Mitch lives with Knight, who shows him the ropes. Hilarity ensues.

What’s refreshing about this movie is that it doesn’t treat college as some booze hound sex fest. It treats college like college really was. Real people. Working hard. And trying to have fun at the same time. Since Pacific Tech is a smarty school, you’re dealing with MIT caliber people, but students are still students, no matter what college you’re at.

Also, Mitch’s character arc is fun to watch unfold. He goes from meek, awkward teen, to somewhat of a confident man by the end. There’s a cute love story subplot which doesn’t seem cheesy, and fits within the confines of the story and setting. It’s just a lot of fun to see how these students go about their day at one of the hardest colleges in the country. But that’s not the real reason you need to watch this movie.

The real reason is because of Val Kilmer.

Kilmer’s portrayal of Chris Knight is everything Van Wilder wishes he could be. He’s ultra smart and witty, but also way out of his element personality wise. He’s a party guy who’s life doesn’t revolve around partying. He’s at the top of his class, and wants to relax and enjoy life from time to time, but is confined to being surrounded by “moles and trolls” who are only interested in studying. When he meets Mitch, he wants to do everything he can to show him you can be both smart and fun. Knight is a great character, witty, quick, and with a huge upside that you just can’t help to like. And not because he’s just a popular guy party, but because he’s such a good guy and friend.

To give you an idea of the type of quick humor representative of this flick watch this scene:

And this is one of my favorite lines from a movie ever:

From what I’ve read a lot of the one liners Kilmer sprouts were improved. And I think he does A HELL OF A JOB as a comedic actor. For further evidence watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He just brings everything to the role of Chris Knight that was needed.

Regardless, Real Genius is a movie and serious college movie fan or 80s movie fan should ass to their collection. It’s also a great example that shows how you can write a coming of age movie that doesn’t treat it’s audience like a bunch of horny 18 year olds.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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