Revenge of the Nerds (1984, rewatch)
Revenge of the Nerds was released 34 years ago, in 1984; right at the dawn of the computer age, and at the heels of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. 1984 saw the release of Apple's popular "1984" TV ad and their founder, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak receiving the National Medal of Technology, while Bill Gates' face was on the cover of TIME magazine. 1984 also saw the first American woman walking in space and the first female nominated for Vice-President by a major party. However, all those changes were still seen by some as rarities, or exceptions, and not the norm. To many, "nerds" were still "nerds", and women were still "just women". A lot has changed since then, not only in technology, but also in the way women and the so-called "nerds" are perceived. In many ways, Jeff Kanew's irreverent romp succeeds in acknowledging the latter, but not the former."Times are changin', Betty. These nerds are a threat to our way of life."
Revenge of the Nerds follows Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe (Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards), two smart but socially awkward freshmen, as they set out to enjoy their first year at Adams College. Unfortunately, they find themselves to be the object of ridicule and bullying by the Alpha Betas, a fraternity comprised mostly by football players and cheerleaders. Along with a small group of outcasts, Lewis and Gilbert decide to set the record straight by forming their own fraternity, while also trying to get back at their tormentors.
I like the way Rotten Tomatoes' consensus describes the film: "undeniably lowbrow but surprisingly sly". I feel that is mostly accurate, as the film clearly takes a mostly lightweight approach to the plot, with lots of gross-out humor and sexually-tinged jokes that were very typical in the 80's. Unfortunately, some of these is done at the expense of the women on the film. Although there are some moments where the film shows smart, strong-willed women, most of the time they are objectified and seen as just "sexual objects" put there just for the pleasure of the men. There is one particular scene that features what would be considered now a borderline(?) sexual assault, but since she enjoyed it, all is well, I guess
Putting that aside, the film manages to succeed by instilling their ensemble of characters with an honest personality and an undeniable charm, as opposed to the exaggerated machismo and harsh torture of their asshole rivals. The film plays its cards mostly in black-and-white, and it really is not hard to root for the underdogs, considering the level of humiliation they are subjected to. There are some moments where you might wonder why are they engaging in the same kind of behavior as their rivals, but I like how the climatic competitions shows them mostly outsmarting them with their wits and cleverness.
Most of the cast is pretty good, with Edwards effectively conveying most of the insecurities and frustration of the "nerds". All of the "nerds" are neatly delineated and well played, but Curtis Armstrong (Booger) clearly steals most of his moments. On the "jocks" side, Ted McGinley is solid as the douchebag quarterback/captain, Stan Gable, while Donald Gibb (Ogre) goes mano-a-mano with "Booger" in terms of scene-stealing. But IMO, the best performance of the film comes from John Goodman as the angry Coach Harris, who leads his "jocks" and fuels most of the abuse towards the "nerds" with what can only be described as pure hate. Not to take the film too seriously, but his last speech to his team, and the subsequent aftermath, is loaded with some seriously dark undertones about how these behaviors and insecurities are carried into adulthood. Sometimes I wish the film would've addressed this better. I think the film botches the ending a bit with an ineffective melodrama (particularly Lewis' speech), but it still works in some levels.
I've seen this film lots of times, since I was a kid. As someone who was never part of the "cool" clique during school, I always found a way to identify with the struggle of the underdogs, the bullying and the ridicule, and find solace in them gaining their respect. 34 years later, I can still have fun with it, but wish the film could've addressed some of the issues in a more serious manner in the midst of all the fun. Times are changin' for sure, the "nerd" culture is mostly thriving with pride, while women have continued to rise upwards among society. Let's hope that we can all acknowledge both of them as equals despite our differences, and not as a threat to our way of life.