There are some pieces of pop culture that you’re aware of the impact they’ve made on your life. Then there are movies like With Honors, which for Annemarie, made more of an impression that she thought. As tradition, Brooke, we start with your overall thoughts on this ’90s throwback.
B: Curiously, I have seen With Honors before. I was wee, and I remembered virtually nothing about it. I knew Joe Pesci and Brandan Fraiser were involved. And also that they had a deal between them involving pages. That’s it. Turns out, that’s also mostly the plot. Snobbish Harvard senior does a dumb and drops the only copy of his senior thesis through a grate into the boiler room of library. Snob sneaks in — instead of just getting on the level with the security guard about his issue — and finds that a bum has found his thesis and is burning it for warmth. This makes no sense, as boiler rooms are, by definition, hot. But there you have it. The bum sees an opportunity to extort the snob for the return of his property. And there you have it, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Though my snark about mystical hobos who change the course of snob lives and my exaggerated impressions of Joe Pesci’s absurd “BOY OH BOY,” I had a lot of fun watching this throwback. Everything about it smacked of the ’90s, which for ’90s kids will always feel like going home. And it was nice to be reminded of young, beautiful Mr. Fraiser. But then there’s the real MVP, a young, swoon-worthy, cool guy Patrick Dempsey. I was there for it.
Alright, AM. I’m dying to know, in what ways was With Honors formative for you? You alluded to this when we watched, but didn’t really clue me in. Was this like the time we did our Top 25 lists and I realized why I am the human I am?
A: Yeahhhh I had forgotten completely about the “BOY OH BOY” thing. It was grating and it was unnecessary. Pesci also gains and loses a strong Jersey accent many times, which was also rather grating. But that’s probably the end of my list of complaints about this film. I also watched it when I was rather young, but as we’re wont to point out, I expect I was older when I saw it, more teen-y than wee. Fraiser and Dempsey look amazing (I mean, Dempsey still looks amazing and it’s kind of unfair that he never had an awkward phase.), but I think looking back, this film gave me a good (wrong) idea of what college would be like.
To start, apparently Harvard undergrads must complete a thesis paper upon which their whole future hangs. I didn’t do that at Arizona State, but I do remember worrying at age 12ish that I too would have a paper due at the end of my college career that would define my life.
Second, I was apparently greatly influenced by Moira Kelly’s character as the roommate for Harvard Snob and the rest of the dude crew. I loved the idea of being “one of the guys” but the key twist here is that she’s the secret love interest for Harvard Snob. The girl that everyone knows is in love with the guy, and when he realizes it, he makes a move and everything turns out amazing. I had that epiphany watching the opening sequence, when Harvard is jogging and catches up to Moira as she’s leading the crew team on their morning run. I’m not nearly fast enough of a runner to run with college guys, but I (again, apparently) have an ambition to be that girl who can not only keep up, but lead the pack. I didn’t have really any good guy friends in high school, but I was friends with a group in college, and I remember now how happy that made me, to be one of the guys. With that group, I was not a secret love interest, but I can see where that drive came from.
Those are the big two things for me. So Brooke, lend me your thoughts on our favorite Harvard bum. Aside from the vocal tics, what did you think of the impression he made on our favorite Harvard snob?
B: Before I get into our Harvard bum and Harvard snob, I’ll take a brief pause to weigh in on your desire to be one of the boys. I was definitely that girl for all of elementary school, some of middle school and in high school too, but by then very specifically at my after-school job at Target. And in my experience, being a sometime secret love interest is never as cute as it looks in the movies. Usually it’s just kind of awkward and leaves you wondering “after all this time?” And it’s never the boy you want it to be. Anyway, I’d be willing to bet that you were a secret interest at some point, even if only for a while.
But, back to the movie! Other than his absurd accent, our favorite Harvard bum is a pretty charming guy, but he’s also as much of a man-child as our favorite Harvard snob, and I’m not sure I would tolerate either of them well in life. Sure, he helps our snob realize that he needs to see the humanity in people, but he’s also a flawed guy who just decided to dip out of his entire life when something unpleasant happened. Oh, and he positively refuses to help himself, preferring to stand on his flawed worldview instead. I appreciate his antics, but he seems to me the textbook “unlikely mentor” from ’90s movies. And if I have to pick a favorite problematic guy who skulks around prestigious universities, it’s probably still Will Hunting.
I’ll give credit where credit is due, he called Harvard snob on his nonsense, which someone really, really needed to do, but some part of me never forgave him for unnecessarily burning paper in a boiler room, BOY OH BOY, that made no sense. But at the same time, I also like that he wrote his own obituary and called out trolling a Harvard professor as part of it.
Alright, let’s hear your thoughts on this relationship. Also, did this movie make you think that you needed to be in ASU gear 24-7?
A: You could not be more accurate with the secret love interest usually being the guy you didn’t want it to be. I do blame Hollywood for our wrong expectations about life in general, but this specifically. If I was a secret love interest (thank you, friend, for saying that), I’m positive it would have been someone I was not interested in, and therefore would have been awkward if he’d actually made a move. I’m glad he didn’t in retrospect.
I also can’t agree more about the vital faux pas of burning paper in a boiler room of a big university building. It would have been EXTREMELY hot in there without added pages, for one. Which begs the question of how Bum would even have lived in that room in the first place. The only conclusion I can glean is that the page burning wasn’t actually for warmth, but because Snob’s thesis was just that bad. It’s clear Bum was smarter than Snob, and I think we’re supposed to see Bum’s destruction for the beginning of the Life Lesson segment of the movie.
Clearly, the set-up isn’t the thing I like about this movie. However ridiculous and contrived the “unexpected 90s mentor” cliche is, I do think once Snob and Bum start connecting, there’s true friendship and respect there. And again, if you set aside the cheesiness of the “replacement dad” angle, it’s nice to see Snob finally get that paternal mentor that he’d clearly been craving. Bum certainly wasn’t without problems, as evidenced by his abandoning his family and then refusing to get any help from anyone ever, but you can see a little of that prideful streak in Snob.
I definitely had quite a bit of ASU gear over the years, partially due to being in marching band where they give you a lot of stuff to wear in the form of a uniform. I wore sweatshirts and other clothing items, of course, but I definitely didn’t wear an ASU shirt every day. I was too cool for that.
Brooke, back to you. How much CU gear did you own, you non-conformist? And let’s discuss the other characters in the house. What are your thoughts on Patrick Dempsey, the Cranky Guy and Secret Love Interest?
B: Thank you, friend, for recognizing my non-conformist ways, I feel so seen. I had a handful of CU regalia, a pair of sweatpants, a hoodie and an assortment of 2-3 t-shirts I got at various welcome activities or from groups, like that time I joined the journalism school board with my pals for about a semester. I don’t really remember what we did, just that I met a boy there that I crushed on for a long time and to whom I was perpetually one of the guys. This tangent was relevant!
Perhaps it is because of the Logan Huntsburger seasons of Gilmore Girls, but for me, Patrick Dempsey was the one of this bunch who felt the most like a Harvard student. He was sexy in an effortless way, he had great locks, and he came from money, but he was always out to disappoint his folks. The Cranky Guy was probably the most useless character in this movie, he served mostly to be an obstacle to the bond between Snob and Bum, but he did offer up the choice line: “He didn’t even flush!” Secret Love Interest was pretty rad. I like that she was a Cool Girl who was actually just kind of cool. She had a hunky boytoy (who I don’t think we ever see), but she was just there for the physical benefits and so dubbed him “The Face.” For the era, that was a pretty radically feminist lifestyle choice to land in a mainstream movie. I also dig that she was quietly the smartest in the bunch, you don’t see her losing her mind over a thesis.
Alright AM, let’s talk a bit about the house where all these characters live because I kind of love it.
A: Ahh the house. It’s almost a side character itself. I loved its old-school Boston charm, and I love that the crew made that house a home. College can be tough, what with the leaving home and all (which we have discussed ad nauseum before), and one needs that place they feel comfortable. Clearly, the group house is that place for all of these students. Plus, how can you not love that the room doors all face the center? I wonder if that was a set because it’s almost too perfect.
I think Cranky Guy probably should have had a stronger part to play, as you’re right, he almost only exists for the express purpose of complaining. Hence the nickname. He’s also the one who’s by far the farthest behind on his thesis, and it’s clear he phones in his work to get it done before the deadline. It would have perhaps been more interesting to see him competing with Snob, but clearly, Snob doesn’t give a shit about Cranky Guy. It’s nice he comes around in the end to Bum, but how can you hate on a dying guy?
You can see why Moira’s character was my favorite, for the reasons you listed above. I also have a hunch that had Snob not finally seen the light, realized he was in love with her and made a move, that she would have probably moved on just fine post-graduation. She doesn’t strike me as the type to let a guy hold her back, so if she had wanted to move to Paris to pursue her architecture career (which I’m assuming is her major based on the models she constructs), she would absolutely go ahead and do it, Snob or no Snob.
I’m also a particular fan of the dynamic between Patrick Dempsey and Moira. While she probably does hold a candle for Snob, she and Patrick seem to truly be best friends and have a great time drinking wine and (probably) talking shit about their other friends.
Moment of silence for the chicken who met its untimely death at the hands of Bum.
Aaaaaaand we’re back! Any final thoughts before we wrap up?
B: I will take a moment to note that the scene in which Snob injures himself is my second favorite scene of someone running across the snow-covered Harvard campus in a weather-inappropriate outfit. The first is in The Social Network, natch.
But for real, I only have one thing left to say:
Thank goodness you finally made a pick with a girl who would go to Paris.
Next time on Required Viewing, we’re leaving behind the hallowed halls of Harvard for a gritty spin through the past in a classic Film Noir entry.