Judge Dan Mancini wishes his college admission had been this comedic. All he had to do was fill out a stack of paperwork and write an essay.
People choose colleges for all kinds of idiotic reasons.
What the hell happened to Savage Steve Holland's filmmaking career? That question arises every so often in my conversations with movie buffs. Better Off Dead was hilarious and One Crazy Summer was funny enough, then the guy just disappeared. What happened?
As best I can tell, How I Got Into College happened.
The movie concerns Hunterwoods High School mediocrity Marlon Browne's (Corey Parker, Biloxi Blues) attempts to get into prestigious Ramsey College so he can stick close to his secret crush, prom queen/cheerleader/4.0 GPA student Jessica Kailo (Lara Flynn Boyle, The Practice). Luckily for Marlon, two of Ramsey's recruiters—boyfriend-and-girlfriend team Kip Hammett (Anthony Edwards, ER) and Nina Sachie (Finn Carter, Tremors)—are all about "looking beyond the numbers" represented by SAT scores. Their archrival on Ramsey's board is Leo Whitman (Charles Rocket, Dances With Wolves), an '80s Darwinian capitalist who aspires to be dean of recruitment when the current dean vacates at the end of the year. Whitman wants to weed out the likes of Browne and even Kailo, who isn't blue-blooded enough for his tastes, not to mention Vera Cook (Tichina Arnold, Martin), a promising African American student from Roosevelt High in Detroit. Throughout it all, we witness the insanity of SAT exams, college fairs, applications, essays, interviews, and interminable waiting that attend the college entrance process.
How I Got Into College has all the smart observation and absurdist humor of Holland's Better Off Dead but none of the charm. The problem is Holland tried to take a big-canvas approach, dealing with more characters and tackling the topic of college recruitment from as encompassing a satirical angle as possible. In Better Off Dead, his comic excesses gel around Lane Myer's (another of the writer-director's high school mediocrity leading men) longing for reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend. There's something palpably real about his heartbreak that offsets and carries the theater of the absurd that is a local paperboy relentlessly pursuing the two dollars owed him by the Myer family, or Mrs. Myer's squirming culinary atrocities, or Lane's elementary school brother learning how to pick up trashy women and build fully-functional space shuttles out of household appliances, or Lane's drag racing against Asian brothers who learned how to speak English by watching Howard Cosell. How I Got Into College tries to pack in too much conceptual humor with too many characters for Marlon's yearning to have any weight or substance. Set pieces like a college fair at which Marlon and his dweeby buddy Oliver (Christopher Rydell, For the Boys) are chased around by a marching band, berated by a recruitment officer for the U.S. Army, and given a hard-sell by a nutcase from Arcadia Bible College (played by Savage Steve Holland regular Curtis Armstrong) who quickly loses interest in Marlon's eternal soul once he learns what the kid scored on his SATs, or a zany beat-the-system SAT seminar run by then-Saturday Night Live cast members Nora Dunn and Phil Hartman as smarmy fast-talkers are considerably less funny because we feel so little for Marlon and the other characters.
How I Got Into College might have been a fresh entry in the Holland universe, and a stylistic step forward for the one-time writer-director had its hero been Jessica Kailo instead of Marlon. Though she's relegated to the object-of-desire role, her anxiety over the university admissions process is true and compelling, while Marlon's emotional world is basically non-existent. She's desperate to get into Ramsey, though her father wants her to attend his alma mater, and her admissions interview meltdown is the most emotionally resonant comic vignette in the movie. In contrast, Marlon's only interested in attending Ramsey to the extent that Jessica's going to be there. One never gets the sense he'll be crushed if they turn him down. We don't even care when he bails in the middle of his interview. Truth be told, he sort of belongs in a community college, anyway.
Fox delivers How I Got Into College on a flipper DVD with an open matte full screen transfer on Side A, and a 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer on Side B. Both look surprisingly good, exhibiting no major damage, little dirt, and no color fade. The Dolby Surround audio track is unremarkable, but free of flaws and delivers solid bass response in the music. The only supplements are two trailers for the film, plus trailers for teen comedies PCU, The Pick-Up Artist, and Never Been Kissed. Although this is essentially a barebones release, it's ironic that this inferior opus by Mr. Holland has received far better treatment from Fox than Better Off Dead received from Paramount.
In the end, How I Got Into College is little more than a sub par redo of the exponentially superior Better Off Dead—it's got some of the wit but none of the soul. It could've been more, a new direction for Savage Steve Holland, a next step in his evolution as a teen comedy filmmaker. Instead, it seems to have been the end of the road.
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