Thursday, March 15, 2012

Class (1983) - Amusing and High Class Slice of '80s Camp

Class 1983 poster
"Class" (1983).

"Class" (1983), directed by Lewis John Carlino, is such a perfect reflection of its time that watching it will be a nostalgic experience for some. It has a healthy helping of "Dynasty" and a side dish of Brat Pack, with a tiny garnish of "Porky's." But Jacqueline Bisset alone raises this sex comedy/drama from mediocre to almost classic. Mercifully, the movie poster has nothing to do with the real themes of the film, it's way above that sort of exploitative trash.

Class 1983 Andrew McCarthy

Anyway, to capsulize the plot, naive middle-class Jonathan (a very young Andrew McCarthy) cheats his way into an exclusive prep school, where his wealthy and knowing roommate (aren't they all) Skip (Rob Lowe) goads him into losing his virginity. Jonathan pulls it off, but his partner turns out to be older woman Ellen (Bisset) who - aghast! - has uncomfortable connections to his fellow college pals.

Class 1983 Andrew McCarthy Rob Lowe

The "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" atmosphere successfully transports us into alternate-reality territory, and there are some great character bits by Stuart Margolin playing a heavy (!) and Cliff Robertson as Ellen's big-deal and clearly unsatisfying husband. Robertson plays the uptight patriarch to the hilt, getting off some pompous lines that sound like they are ripped from today's chat rooms ("I am also against government bailouts.") Alan Ruck, Virginia Madsen and John and Joan Cusack also make their first of many marks.

Class 1983 Andrew McCarthy

The leads, though, make the movie hum. A great scene is when Jonathan and Skip go out on a date with some girls from a neighboring finishing school, and the girls engage in such puerile, idle pompous liberal chatter about "the poor" and such that Jonathan pukes all over the car out of sheer disgust. Ah, college memories, been there, done that.... Another is when Jonathan first meets Skip and is tricked into making a complete ass out of himself while wearing women's undergarments. The quite ripe Bisset handles her somewhat awkward scenes with the (very young looking, did I mention that already?) McCarthy with aplomb, but the pairing is incongruous. Sexual confusion and misadventure runs throughout the film.

Class 1983 Jacqueline Bisset

Several actors who became big stars got their first major exposure in this film. Alan Ruck ("Ferris Bueller"), Andrew McCarthy, John Cusack, and Rob Lowe show what they can do. The accidental exposure scene with a haughty Virginia Madsen - her blouse gets ripped off accidentally - is an absolute classic and must-see. She sure was a good sport! Catch Virginia Madsen in "The Hot Spot," too.

Class 1983 Virginia Madsen
Virginia Madsen has a great comic bit that is not to be missed.

There's somewhat of a cop-out at the end - Bisset disappears way too soon - but it's still perfectly plausible. The real problem is simply that McCarthy looks too young alongside the mature and quite fetching Bisset. Her fatal attraction is eventually explained away, sort of, but even if you don't mind odd pairings, the whole thing requires a healthy suspension of disbelief. The story is told from Jonathan's perspective, which unfortunately leaves Ellen as a bit of an enigma. Exploring her character more, or for that matter, at all - dare I say it, making it more rounded, not one of Bisset's usual problems - would have made "Class" eminently more satisfying. There are tantalizing hints that her deviance stems from Robertson treating her as a child, not a woman. But, alas and alack, Ellen ultimately is reduced to nothing more than an object of lust, made to suffer for her own brazenness, and relevant only because she threatens the film's truest, deepest and most meaningful relationship.

Class 1983 Andrew McCarthy

It isn't often that a major star like Jacqueline Bisset agrees to do a sex comedy. This is a classy sex comedy, but still sexy.

Class 1983 Jacqueline Bisset Andrew McCarthy

The elevator seduction scene is highly recommended. It isn't really necessary to the plot, I suppose... But if you've ever been there and done that... It may bring back fond memories. Of course, there is also a full-blown bed scene that is rather chaste.  I'm sure Ms. Bisset was only willing to do so much and showing more would have amped the sleaze factor a bit much. But the romantic scenes are very tasteful. There are several different versions of the film, so the degree of sexuality depends upon the version. One can see how two people could get into this situation. Ms. Bisset wasn't exactly ancient when this was filmed. In her 30s, Bisset was still a young woman. It isn't as if a schoolkid was romancing grandma or anything.

Class 1983 Jacqueline Bisset Andrew McCarthy

But there is an added dimension from her age that makes the whole affair seem more important than it probably ever would be in real life. Oh, and if she weren't married. And the mother of Jonathan's roommate.

Class 1983 Jacqueline Bisset Andrew McCarthy

It is definitely a fantasy time.  If only all older women looked this good! And it would be nice if they were this playful, too! Jacqueline Bisset gets a chance to re-live those dorm room highs. But ultimately, the piper must be paid. The unwritten Hays Code that still existed in Hollywood said that you can't just ignore all of society's rules and walk away from it without consequence. The ride to Hell and back sure is enjoyable, though!

"Class" is highly recommended for those looking for a high-class comedy/drama on the "male fantasy of dating an older babe" theme. You really don't get a higher class product than "Class."


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