As we matriculate through the grades, there is a sense that the next stage is when things will be different. We tend to look at our current situation with all its cares and worries and see nothing but problems. This notion, combined with our lack of maturity in our developmental years, makes us wish when we are younger that we are older. Yet, what happens when we finally make it? I speak to subjects that have been covered in many different cinematic examples. There is a line that can be drawn at the time of college graduation, the point at which, as the saying goes, it is time for you to enter the “real world.” For some it is earlier, some later, but there seems to be a cultural distinction between the two halves of our lives. Old School (2003) attempts to bridge the gap between the two.
Old School starts with the new school, if you will, with the working lawyer Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) away from home on business. Nothing is going right for him, and the job is suffocating. Hence, it is with eagerness that he returns home early to his girlfriend, Heidi (Juliette Lewis). He believes her to be, ahem, warmed up for his arrival. Instead, he finds that she is being promiscuous (to say the utter least), and he leaves depressed and shocked. It is in this state that he attends the wedding of one of his best friends, Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell), which leads to Mitch getting drunk during the reception. His behavior does not leave a good impression on Nicole (Ellen Pompeo), a woman on whom he had a crush in high school. Adding to the list of poor coping decisions is allowing Mitch’s other best friend, Bernard “Beanie” Campbell (Vince Vaughn), to throw a party for Mitch at his new house near the campus of the college they attended. The next morning finds Mitch waking up in a stupor next to a strange girl (who later turns out to be in high school) full of regret. The situation is not helped when one of the nearby school’s deans, Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), shows up to lodge several complaints about the previous evening’s festivities. The main one is that since the house is so close to campus it must serve an academic function, and no amount of appealing to the fact that Mitch and Dean Pritchard are old acquaintances can change the administrator’s mind. Beanie, though, sees an opportunity. Feeling stifled by his own home life, he proposes that they start their own new fraternity along with Frank. Beanie and Frank want some place to go where they can let loose from their families. Mitch is reluctant because it is his house, but is also not keen on moving again right away, so eventually agrees. To sweeten the deal for Mitch, the others dub him the “Godfather,” which I guess makes everything better. Yet, they are going to cater not only to the few college kids that could not get into fraternities, but also to others who are in similar situations as Beanie and Frank. Hence, they set to work with their recruitment, of the college-aged and the adults, and they are on their way to creating an actual fraternity. In the meantime, Mitch meets Nicole again, this time in a more sober frame of mind, and has a few more amiable interactions with her. Things go off the rails again at a birthday party for one of Beanie’s children. There is chemistry between the two, despite the fact that Nicole has brought her boyfriend, Mark (Craig Kilborn). Mitch’s growing feelings for Nicole are complicated when he finds Mark making out with another woman at the party, and is pressured into not saying anything. Later, Mark says that he caught Mitch doing the deed, which, along with a whole host of other suspicious things about Mitch, once more earns her distrust. Meanwhile, cracks are beginning to form in Mitch’s new fraternity. The first complication comes when their oldest member, Joseph “Blue” Pulaski (Patrick Cranshaw), dies in the house during a, er, “wrestling incident.” The less said about this, the better. Frank’s marriage also ends because of his inordinate dedication to the club, which triggers a reversion to “Frank the Tank,” behaviors she thought behind him. The biggest challenge, though, is Dean Pritchard, who harbors resentment for Mitch and his activities stemming from when they were younger. Dean Pritchard’s first step is to attempt to expel the students in the fraternity. Mitch appeals on their behalf, and they are given a set of tasks to perform in order to prove their worthiness to the school. Though they pass all their tests, Dean Pritchard still revokes their charter when he notes that Blue, who is still listed on their rolls, got a zero for everything. What saves the day is Frank obtaining a recording of Dean Pritchard bribing the head of the student union to deny their fraternity. With the administrator exposed, he is summarily fired, and the fraternity is allowed to stay. It is left to Frank to lead, with Beanie stepping away. Mitch does, too, in order to pursue a relationship with Nicole after she realizes what had really happened with Mark. Aside from one last scene when Frank sees Heidi in the grocery store, this is essentially where the film concludes.
There are those who watch Old School and feel that it is a Will Ferrell film. I always saw him as a side character in the movie, though he does have (truly, for lack of a better word) “memorable” scenes. I have glossed over many of them because they are not all that necessary for explaining the story, though they are the ones that seem to get remembered the most. He is also the least interesting character. If you enjoy that Will Ferrell brand of comedy, then have at it, I guess. If you have seen any of his movies, then you have seen this one. And again, he is not the protagonist. That is Mitch insomuch as he has the closest thing to resembling an arc. Nonetheless, I will spend a little more time with Frank. The more he parties, the more he brings back “Frank the Tank,” who is seemingly incompatible with his home life. While I do not believe that God means for anyone to spend their entire lives partying as Frank seems to want to do, I also feel that He has a purpose to which he calls all of us. There is no real purpose to the fraternity, for it prolongs that state of childhood that typifies what these associations are portrayed as doing on film. You can call me hypocritical if you like, saying that male religious are essentially the same thing. You could say that, but you would be wrong. For starters, obviously, monks do not get up to the same kind of antics you see Frank doing in the film. All you really need to mention here, though, is how monks spend their days essentially praying for the world. That means you, by the way, dear reader. Somewhere there is member of a religious order beseeching God on your behalf. The fraternity in the movie, while an escape, is formed strictly for their own benefit. As such, there is no comparison, really, but there is always some smart person out there that will want to justify such things.
Old School has a lot of subject matter in it that is inappropriate for any audience. It is one of those movies done simply to be provocative for the sake of comedy. To bring this full circle to the introduction, it portrays the kind of lifestyle one hopes to lead as an adult . . . when you are an idiot fifteen-year-old. Leave this film safely in 2003 and move on.