College. A time of growth and learning. A chance to broaden horizons and sew wild oats. An opportunity to transition into adulthood via a hilarious and heartwarming mixture of frequent sex, affordable alcohol, exciting parties, prank-related shenanigans, and maybe even true love. Having experienced life almost entirely through the medium of DVD, this is what I expected the experience to be like, and oh, how wrong was I. As a public service, here’s how to separate “reel” from “real” (if I may coin a pun) in the college experience, lest future undergrads be as heartbroken by the ordeal as I was.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
REEL: John Belushi and his motley crew of Delta House-ers embark on a wacky mission to humiliate a rival fraternity, the sinister dean, and young Kevin Bacon. The granddaddy of all college films, Animal House taught us the inspirational lesson that a movie didn’t have to look good, be well paced, or contain any actual humour to become a cultural phenomenon.
REAL: Anyone who has that John Belushi “college” poster on his wall is an asshole. There are no exceptions.
HOW HIGH (2001)
REEL: In the performances that would earn them Oscars, Method Man and Redman smoke magical weed that makes them super-smart and helps them pass their college entrance exam. “On December 21, put a little tingle in your jingle,” screamed the poster tagline, with a certain neo-Biblical dignity. Fun fact: director Jesse Dylan’s father is Bob Dylan, which I suppose would make him the Barry Van Dyke of the Dylan family.
REAL: I think we all know the real key to passing your entrance exam is vodka.
OLD SCHOOL (2003)
REEL: A trio of middle-aged men (Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and an iconically pantsless Will Ferrell) leave their humdrum lives behind to start an all-ages fraternity. They engage in raunchy misadventures and match wits with a sinister dean and… wait a minute, this is just Animal House again, isn’t it?
REAL: Actually, the truly pathetic people are the ones who keep visiting their high schools.
KICKING AND SCREAMING (1995)
REEL: In Noah Baumbach’s bittersweet, wryly humorous directorial debut, a group of post-grads try to cope with the existential dilemma that is their future. If memory serves, there’s also a topless scene.
REAL: There’s a lot less tweed. And, in my case, topless girls.
SUMMER PALACE (2006)
REEL: The Chinese government banned director Lou Ye from filmmaking for five years thanks to this politically-charged, sex-drenched epic about a girl’s tumultuous journey through college around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre. One of the best art house films you’ve only seen six or seven minutes of on Mr. Skin.
REAL: In my experience, sex is usually over much sooner, followed by apologies.
VIOLENT IS THE WORD FOR CURLY (1938)
REEL: In this short film featuring noted scholars The Three Stooges, our heroes are service station workers who disguise as college professors after exploding a car.
REAL: Actually, this compelling story of three men failing upwards through college has been replicated time and again by many of our most prominent politicians.
VAN WILDER: FRESHMAN YEAR (2009)
REEL: In this direct-to-video prequel to the 2002 Ryan Reynolds attempt, Van arrives at college to find that all the attractive women have taken a vow of chastity. Shocked but not defeated, Van continues his quest to loosen his fellow students’ inhibitions with the only sensible solution: taping vibrators under the church pews and illicitly inducing orgasms via remote control. Based on a short story by Anton Chekhov.
REAL: I’m fairly certain the scene in which Van takes over Calculus 101 and brings up porn stars to demonstrate equations wouldn’t happen in real life. Then again, I’ve never been to Yale.