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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » National Lampoon's Animal House » User review

"Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life Son."

  • May 12, 2012
Rating:
+3
*** out of ****

John Belushi is the heart and soul of "Animal House", the John Landis helmed comedy picture that single-handedly re-invented old genre conventions and in the process created new ones. Ask anyone about the film, and they will mention - or rather quote - what are considered some of the great SNL comic's finest on-screen moments. Indeed they are. Belushi, working with a film and a script that seem almost irredeemably simplistic at first sight, brings the material to greater heights with a wide range of comic convulsion that goes from anarchic and politically incorrect (who can forget the "Pearl Harbor" speech) to over-the-top slapstick (the famous food fight scene is an exceptional example of this). Without Belushi, there would be no "Animal House". Or at least if there still was, it wouldn't have been remembered. For audiences both young and old in the year of 1978, the film truly brought something new; it started a trend of gross-out comedy in American cinema that is still prevalent in modern genre pictures to this day. But of course, when you look at those movies and then this one, you start to realize that it will never quite be the same. But you can't say they don't make 'em like they used to. Because they do. Just...I dunno, differently.

We are first introduced to a duet of college freshmen, Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and the bumbling Kent (Stephen Furst), who are trying their hardest to work their way into a fraternity at Faber College. They settle in at the Delta House, where Kent's brother was once a member (making him a "legacy", or something like that). Belushi's character Bluto belongs to this frat house and his introductory scene involves urine and beer. Larry and Kent pledge and are given fraternity names (Pinto and Flounder respectively). Life is good. For now. The dean of the campus (John Vernon) wishes to get rid of the Delta house completely, as he finds the members of it to be repulsive and practically useless. After witnessing some of the sleazy, out-there antics of Bluto, I would have to agree with him; although wherever there is a party, there must be the life of it, and so Bluto has a role in this universe, if there was ever one.

The Deltas throw wild toga parties and continue on with their drunken, sex-filled nights. Obviously, this upsets The Dean greatly, prompting him to try and come up with ways to expel the members of the house. Bluto and company currently possess very low grade point averages, and in a particularly hilarious scene, The Dean calls all the boys in to tell them just that. He expels the lot of them; Kent vomits all over him (The Dean, not himself). Now, in an act of rebellion, the boys decide that it would be best for them to get even. It's the snobs versus the slobs, just like in, say, "Caddyshack". It ends with the chaotic break-up of a huge parade, and therefore, it goes out with a rather loud bang.

Screenwriters Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller found humor in the times, and so they wrote this movie. On the surface, everything is insanely basic and simplistic; but there is sophistication to the comedy and the tone alike. This is perhaps why the film resonates with so many people, especially those who saw it when it first came out and continued to enjoy it from then on, as well as a select few who discovered it afterwards. Perhaps I am in the minority when I say that "Animal House", while equal doses smart and silly, is not exactly brilliant. I don't know why. A film this arrogantly humorous has the potential to be great - and maybe in its own way it is - but frat comedy has never been my favorite brand of comedy to begin with, although I'm not so ignorant to deny its effectiveness when it is used right. That is the case here. Every moment spent with Bluto is sheer delight, and he more than steals the show, and the mixture of political incorrectness and correctness shows signs of indefinite intelligence in the script. It's smarter than a lot of the comedies that it inspired, that's for sure.

But then, there is this feeling of disappointment. I wanted to see the movie through as the great piece of comedic genius that some people seem to think it is, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't bring myself to hold it in such high regards. It is...immensely enjoyable (to say the least), and it has a screwball charm to it that's nigh impossible to resist, but it takes it upon itself to have as messy a narrative as the parties written for it. That was the intent, and so it is the film's cross to bear (although some will not believe it to be a burden at all), but for me, it never found the right balance. Long story short, I just wish the story could have worked at the same exact pace as the jokes, which are often brilliant (until the end, where a few of them loose their appeal). There are dramatic sub-plots that feel highly unnecessary to the overall product, characters that feel either useless or just down-right forgettable (I'm likely to remember Bluto the most out of the lot of them). I laughed, but I wish I had laughed a bit more.

But then again, maybe the best humor here isn't the kind you laugh out loud at. There are some big laugh-out-loud moments to be sure, but there is also true-to-life satire that really works. So this is where "Animal House" succeeds where other college frat comedies have not; there is a human understanding at work, and it is genuinely strong. The characters all feel real; even Bluto. We've all met an arrogant pig that's at least somewhat like him. And part of the reason why the dialogue is so often repeated and the film so often referred to is because of that very human element that I speak of. In my opinion, you cannot have great - or even good - comedy without at least a little bit of humanity thrown in for good measure. I wish more raunchy comedies of recent understood that.

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June 16, 2012
You're right. Raunch without something more falls short of funny. Thank you for an interesting reminder of a movie I enjoyed a lot a long time ago. Well done.
 
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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National Lampoon's Animal House is a 1978 comedy film directed by John Landis and adapted by Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller and Harold Ramis from stories written by Miller and published in National Lampoon magazine based on his experiences in the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth College, as well as Ramis's experiences in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis. The film is about a misfit group of fraternity boys that takes on the system at their college.

It is considered to be the movie that launched the gross-out genre, although it was predated by several films now also included in the genre. Produced on a small $2.7 million budget, the film has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time. Since its initial release, Animal House has garnered an estimated return of more than $141 million in the form of video and DVDs, not including merchandising. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. This film is first on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." It was #36 on AFI's "100 Years, 100 Laughs" list of the 100 best American comedies.

Promotional song from this movie was "Animal House", written and performed by Stephen Bishop (who also recorded song called "Dream Girl" to the film's soundtrack and who appeared in the movie

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