Animal House (1978) / Comedy
aka National Lampoon's Animal House
MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality, drug use, and language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Tim Matheson, John Belushi, Peter Riegert, Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Karen Allen, Bruce McGill, John Vernon, Donald Sutherland, James Widdoes, Mark Metcalf, Martha Smith, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon, Mary Louise Weller, Verna Bloom, Cesare Danova, Sarah Holcomb, Lisa Baur, DeWayne Jessie, Stephen Bishop (cameo), Robert Cray (cameo)
Director: John Landis
Screenplay: Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller
Here's another review that will most likely get me in trouble with the film's biggest fans, as Animal House is generally considered to be a comedy classic among many circles. I've seen it a few times now, trying to find the nonstop hilarity that many others claim to be in there, and with every repeated viewing, I seem to like it even less. Chalk this one up on the films I don't "get", as I find it to be a scattershot comedy without much going for it save a very likeable cast of actors and an irreverent attitude that is sometimes infectious.
The setting is the fictitious Faber College, where there are many fraternities, but none as reviled as the Delta house, which recruits almost every loser and lowlife the other fraternities turn away. They are constantly threatened to be put out of existence by the college's Dean Wormer, who seems to be on a mission to make them suffer for all of the mischievous pranks they pull. Wormer goes into cahoots with the preppy fraternity, the Omegas, into seeing that the Deltas eventually fail, losing their fraternity status and perhaps even have all of its members expelled. The Deltas may sometimes be down, but never for the count, as they continue their hedonistic ways in complete defiance to conformity.
Animal House would go on to inspire many other filmmakers to try their hand at lowbrow comedies with high energy, and it also set the blueprint for other fraternity films in the years to come (PCU and Old School are virtual retreads of the Animal House formula). It did earn itself a massive following of fans, especially of those who are in college or thinking about going, showing every student's ultimate fantasy of partying every day, getting laid, and going on constant road trips getting into trouble. What the producers of this film almost never show is someone studying or having to go to class, or any of the many things that make college life the doldrums in reality. The Deltas are the pinnacle of living for the moment, and this hedonistic attitude definitely struck a major nerve in the very hedonistic post-Vietnam, disco and coke era of the late 1970s.
While there are some inspired gags to be found, stemming mostly from exaggerated examples of true experiences the writers of the film had when they were going to college, it is really in the non-scripted moments where animal House gains most of its laughs. One big reason comes from the manic performance by John Belushi (The Blues Brothers), the beer-guzzling imp that every school administrator despises, but that every student wishes he could be like, giving the finger to everything that the school, and society in general, considers holy.
However, even with the occasionally amusing sight gags, Animal House isn't really as hilarious as its reputation makes it out to be. Perhaps there is a tendency among viewers to want to "join in the fun" and have a good time right along with the Deltas. Certainly, I would have loved to myself, if only the script could have been more than a collection of comedic situations that the actors ham up to seem funnier than they really are. In fact, I found it to be a fairly boring experience about 70% of the time.
Animal House is a movie that's more fun to talk about than to actually view. Perhaps those who partied hard in college or who were in a fraternity will find this to be the film that defined their early adulthood, and for that, I can understand its place in your video library. As for me, I found watching the film to be just like the college years -- one remembers the good times and chooses to forget that most of it was boring and tedious. Nostalgia often coats over the reality, whether it is nostalgia for college or for movies, and there's no more evidence of the nostalgia film that people adore beyond its actual filmmaking value than Animal House.
-- Followed by a short-lived television series, "Delta House" in 1979.
©2005 Vince Leo