Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Directed by Martha Coolidge and screenplay by Neal Israel, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei from a story by Israel and Proft, Real Genius is the story of a high school student who is accepted to a top university where he works with a college senior in creating a laser unaware of the intentions of its professor. The film doesn’t just explore the world of tech universities but also the fallacies of intelligence where a young genius rebels against his intelligence in order to have fun. Starring Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, Jon Gries, Robert Prescott, Ed Lauter, and William Atherton. Real Genius is a witty and engaging film from Martha Coolidge.
The film plays into a fifteen year old kid who is given the chance to attend a prestigious technical college to work on a laser with a gifted senior as they’re both unaware of what their professor wants to do with the laser. It’s a film that isn’t just an exploration of kids rebelling against their own intelligence and have fun but it’s also a film where a group of kids deal with college life as well as the world they’re about to embark. It plays into the story as a professor named Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) is asked by the military to build a laser they need for a weapons project that can kill someone from outer space. In return, Hathaway would get some commendation and more publicity as he is also the host of a TV program. Yet, he spends his time grading papers and overseeing the construction of his house which he used the money for the project while letting his students do all the work.
The film’s screenplay plays into a lot of scenarios that does manage to gel once all of the storylines come together as the 15-year old freshman Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret) arrives to the school as a young genius who is smarter than people his age and above. Still, he is treated with some contempt by some of the students including Kent (Robert Prescott) who constantly sucks up to Hathaway and tries to run the laser project whenever Hathaway nor another top student in Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) isn’t around. Mitch is excited at first about having Knight as his roommate but is shocked that the kid who was considered a genius many years before has become a slacker that just parties constantly. After some moments including enduring a humiliating prank by Kent, Mitch wants to leave until Knight tells him that he shouldn’t and learn to have fun while getting back at Kent.
The film also shows some of the flaws of intelligence as it relates to a mysterious student named Lazlo Holyfield (Jon Gries) who keeps coming in and out of Mitch’s closet in doing a secret project as he got paranoid over ideas that he believes the government wants. Eventually, Holyfield’s paranoia would come true once Knight and Mitch realize exactly what Hathaway wants the laser in its third act as they get the help of friend Ick (Mark Kamiyama) and the hyperkinetic student Jordan (Michelle Meyrink). It’s third act isn’t just handled with some suspense but also a sense of morality that isn’t heavy handed as it’s conclusion is a joyful one.
Martha Coolidge’s direction is very simple as she doesn’t aim for something that is very stylistic with the exception of a few scenes that relates to the military project. Much of the film is shot on location at Caltech in California to give the film not just a realistic look into the world of college life but also in how students conduct themselves socially and academically. The latter of which features elements of humor in a scene where Mitch walks into a classroom as he realizes that he’s the only one there and all of chairs are filled by tape recorder recording what the professor is saying on an audio tape. It’s among these offbeat moments in the film that plays into the humor as well as how Knight is introduced as he is seen wearing pajamas, wearing a headband with spring ears, and fluffy bunny shoes.
The film is balanced with some drama since Coolidge is aware that the film does revolve this young kid who is hoping to go into a world where he can meet people who are smart and mature as he is. Instead, he faces some dose of reality where he is forced to grow up as well as loosen up since he has a whole life ahead of him to learn and be smart but also have some fun at the same time. Much of Coolidge’s compositions are straightforward with its close-ups and medium shots while capturing something is very lively. The film’s climax which does involve this big laser project is a very big moment as it’s outcome not only establishes a lot into what Hathaway was trying to do but also into how he managed to screw over a bunch of kids who thought they were doing something good for the world only to get a dose of revenge. Overall, Coolidge creates a very funny and insightful film about a bunch of genius kids who try to find joy without the need to study and do something good for the world.
Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it captures not just the sunny look of the daytime locations but also uses some unique interior lights for some scenes at night including a few party scenes and moments in the classrooms. Editor Richard Chew does nice work with the editing as it‘s quite simple in its approach to comedy while creating a few stylish montages to play into the world of learning. Production designer Josan F. Russo, with set decorator Phil Abramson and art director Jack G. Taylor Jr., does fantastic work with some of the look of the parties and classrooms as well as the home of Hathaway.
Costume designer Marla Denise Schlom does wonderful work with the clothes as it‘s mostly casual as well as playing into the development of some of its characters Mitch starts off wearing a suit and look nerdy and eventually dress more casually. Visual effects supervisors Richard L. Bennett and David Stipes do terrific work with the minimal visual effects as it relates to the laser project from space that Hathaway is involved in. Sound designer George Budd and sound editor Julia Evershade do superb work with the sound to create the way the laser sounds upon its firing as well as the atmosphere in some of the party scenes. The film’s music by Thomas Newman does brilliant work with the film‘s score as it features bits of electronic music as well as a few orchestral pieces while music supervisors Becky Mancuso-Winding and Michael Papale create a great soundtrack that mixes synth-pop, new wave, and hard rock from acts like Tears for Fears, Y&T, Don Henley, Bryan Adams, Tonio K, The Call, The System, The Comsat Angels, and several other obscure acts.
The casting by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins is amazing as it includes appearances from skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta as a space shuttle pilot in the film’s opening scene, Miss January of 1984 Playmate Penny Baker as a party girl in the pool party, Dean Devlin and Yuji Okumoto as a couple of nerdy students who are reluctant to join the pool party, Severn Darden as the school’s eccentric dean, and Deborah Foreman as the daughter of a government official who asks Knight a very interesting question. Other noteworthy small roles include Patti D’Arbanville as a corporate executive who has a reputation for bedding very smart young men, Louis Giambalvo as an air force major who often asks Hathaway about the project’s progress, and Ed Lauter as a government official who supports the laser project.
Robert Prescott is terrific as the slimy nerd Kent who is a constant ass-kisser to Hathaway as he tries to do whatever it takes to ruin whatever ideas Mitch and Knight have. Mark Kamiyama is excellent as Ick as an Asian student who is a friend of Knight that is just as silly as well as being someone who is very fun. Michelle Meyrink is fantastic as Jordan as a hyperkinetic student who talks very fast as she befriends Mitch and helps him deal with the craziness of college. Jon Gries is amazing as the mysterious Lazlo as a student from the 1970s who was considered a genius until he acts very odd by going in and out of Mitch’s closet due to his own paranoia.
William Atherton is superb as Jerry Hathaway as a revered college professor and TV host who is quite smug at times while being someone who abuses his power as he wants to get credit for contributing something that is immoral. Gabriel Jarret is brilliant as Mitch Taylor as a 15-year old kid who goes to college as he tries to deal with his new surroundings while learning that he just needs to have fun. Finally, there’s Val Kilmer in a remarkable performance as Chris Knight as a college senior who was once revered as a genius who decides to become a slacker while aiding Mitch in this laser project as Kilmer brings a lot of energy and wit to his role.
Real Genius is a phenomenal film from Martha Coolidge that features an incredible breakthrough performance from Val Kilmer. Along with a great supporting cast and a fun soundtrack, it is a film that isn’t just a funny college film but also a film that questions the idea of intelligence and how those who are smart are trying to live normal lives and have fun. In the end, Real Genius is a sensational film from Martha Coolidge.
© thevoid99 2015
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This may be my fave teen comedy from the '80s. It has something that is missing from John Hughes' movies, which appear to have the freaks and geeks triumph at the end but more often than not they are assimilated into the preppie crowd. Not so with many of Coolidge's films, including REAL GENIUS. The geeks and nerds remain true to themselves and wear it like a badge of honor. There is a lot going on in this film making it more than just a simple teen comedy.
It's one of my favorite films of the 80s as I loved the fact that you see these nerds as real people who do want to learn but also have fun. At the same time, you see them fire back in ways you don't expect them to not with their brains but also with heart. Plus, it's 30 years old yet it never feels dated. I still love it.
Great review! This is actually one of the few 80s movies I HAVEN'T seen...need to add it to my to-watch list :)
@onthescreenreviews.com-Thanks. It's currently playing on Starz or Encore this month as it's one of my favorite 80s films.
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