The 1980’s produced some of the best and most cherished coming-of-age, comedy-dramas to grace theatre screens, and it is these that the era is most fondly remembered for. George Lucas’ 1973 ensemble piece American Graffiti and Richard Linklater’s superb Dazed And Confused (made exactly 20 years after Lucas’ effort), are notable absentees of the eighties teen catalogue, but what does become apparent is that not one but several films made between 1982 and 1989 equal or better the quality of these two films that arguably standout in their respective decades as the pinnacle film of this genre. However, unlike the aforementioned films, most of the better efforts to appear in the genre in the eighties looked at a time period around the present day. By 1983, the year Class was released, the seventies had bid a fine farewell and the eighties trend in Hollywood filmmaking was beginning to make its mark, with a lot of teen fronted films being released or put into production. Ultimately, the coming-of-age teen genre was made up of fairytale stories told through reality based characters, in reality based worlds, but they had to be fairytale in nature because the time they were made for, required it. The genre flourished because life as a teenager had suddenly become a daunting experience with the A.I.D.S virus taking more and more lives, and the emphasis on career, that of prestige and prosperity through money and power. These films offered light relief, a sense of ‘everyone’s going through the same thing as you’, and an hour or two of escapism.
Class appeared quite mundane in 1983 compared to the outrageousness of Porky’s, or the colourful ensemble nature of Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It was a much more subtle film yet it still boasted many of the things that made ‘Fast Times’ or ‘Porky’s’ memorable, and bridged the gap to Hughes’ films such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful, which would take on a similar angle in approaching the genre.
The film begins with country-boy Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy) saying goodbye to his parents as he begins his time at prep-school, and for all intents and purposes he doesn’t get off to a good start as roommate Skip (Rob Lowe) plays a prank on him, leaving him out in the yard with nothing but women’s underwear on. The two eventually become good friends, and Skip sensing that Jonathan is a little shy when it comes to the ladies, tries to set him up. The date doesn’t go down too well, and Skip suggests the only way Jonathan will get to, from Skip’s vocabulary, ‘plant his seed’, is to head for the city. So on Skip’s orders Jonathan ends up at a bar where he meets an older woman (Jacqueline Bisset) and begins a passionate affair, the only problem being, she happens to be Skip’s mother.
Clearly, the film’s hook is ‘young teen has lots of sex with older woman who actually turns out to be his best friend’s mother’, but the film would fail miserably if that was what it ultimately were about. What we are presented with is two main characters who befriend each other because they are placed into a situation where they need each other to survive. It isn’t a life or death situation, but it is the time in their lives where they cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood, and said bridge isn’t altogether very stable. The film, directed by screenwriter Lewis John Carlino (who had earlier adapted David Ely’s novel into the superb, slow-burning psychological thriller Seconds) has his film working best when it concerns the main two character’s budding friendship. From the funny pranks to the ugly falls, the film looks at what life teaches you outside of the classroom.
Carlino’s film struggles though in its ultimate direction, with Jonathan’s affair being more of a sub-plot, which later takes its toll on his relationship with Skip. The ending leaves a lot to be desired in terms of this affair, in that Bisset’s character is never fully investigated bar a couple of scenes suggesting why she would sleep outside of marriage. Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt’s script doesn’t know whether it wants to be slapstick funny or dramatically theoretical, and in the end combines the two into a mismatched jigsaw of a plot, where Jonathan and Skip’s relationship simply juxtaposes Jonathan and Bisset’s affair. One is interesting and at times awfully funny, the other is rather bland and at times difficult to stomach. This is largely down to Carlino’s background in writing, indeed he didn’t direct another film after this, and he clearly cannot find a way of gelling the two major elements of the script into a workable final cut.
However, the film still has a lot to like, especially the scenes at the school. Early film outings for the likes of Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, John Cusack (and his sister in a blink and you’ll miss her role), and Alan Ruck, all of which, but not together, would later work in such films as Joel Schumacher’s reminiscent St. Elmo’s Fire, Savage Steve Holland’s brilliantly perceptive Better Off Dead, and perhaps John Hughes’ best Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. John Cusack, in a small supporting role, comes off best showing acting glimpses of what made him one of the most notable young actors during the period, topped off in 1989 with Cameron Crowe’s wonderful boy meets girl tale Say Anything. There’s a hilarious scene where some of the students believe a cop is checking up on the school, so when word quickly breaks out we find them all in the toilets desperately trying to flush their marijuana down the lavatory. One such student has a marijuana plant, and not really knowing how to discard it, starts to eat the leaves.
Class only touches on the heights in quality later films in the genre would cement themselves in, but it was one of the first to follow ‘Fast Times’ and is a very watchable film, and at times highly entertaining. What it lacks in consistency and a soundtrack that is rather dull and lifeless compared to its future counterparts, it makes up for with a certain amount of charm and some wonderfully oddball moments.