Making the Grade (1984)

“Learn to love yellow and pink!”

Justin’s rating: I got my diploma from cable TV

Justin’s review: You think you know this movie. You walk into it and see a teen school comedy with slobs and richies all over the place, you catch a whiff of Animal House-style antics, and you spot Judd Nelson dancing his way across the room. You lean back in your chair, temple your fingers, and slyly predict all of the plot points that you can see coming from a mile away.

You think you know Making the Grade… but you kind of don’t, too. It’s the type of movie that keeps juking and swerving in slightly unpredictable ways, narrowly avoiding becoming a complete ’80s film stereotype and instead making it to the end credits on its own terms. What I’m trying to say here is that while this is solidly daytime, nothing-else-better-on-TV cable fare, it’s packing a few surprises that might keep you from turning the channel.

Before he was a member of the Brat Pack, Nelson headlined this 1984 comedy as Eddie, a hustler who is literally on the run from his bookie (Andrew Dice Clay). When fate has him cross paths with an extreme yuppie slacker named Palmer, a wild plan is born. Palmer — who wants to avoid school and enjoy his hedonistic lifestyle — pays Eddie to take his place at a prep school. Eddie, desperate for cash, agrees. And thus, a fish-out-of-water saga is born.

Considering that preppies became a big thing in ’80s culture, it’s really interesting to look back at a microcosm of this lifestyle. Eddie sticks out like a sore thumb in a school full of kids wearing pastels, riding horses, and playing lacrosse. Yet everyone seems to like him just fine for bucking the culture — at least, until the culture starts to infect and assimilate him.

It took me a while to really get the tone of Making the Grade, because it really is all over the place. There are some solid jokes, but at its core, it’s not really a struggle between the rich and poor or a nail-biting thriller about how long Eddie can keep up the charade. Instead, it settles into being a goofy school movie about kids who haven’t really found their place yet. Making things more interesting is the fact that both Palmer AND Dice end up hanging out at his school for very vague reasons, and the whole situation turns really bizarre.

I didn’t fully buy Nelson as the kind of Ferris Bueller figure that the movie needed him to be, but he’s got his moments. However, he’s totally upstaged by the guy who plays Palmer, because that guy is having way too much fun not caring about anything and double-downing on his slacker existence.

Making the Grade is one of those ’80s movies you should see when you’ve seen all of the other comedies a million times. It’s amusing, has the most obvious breakdancing stunt double you’ll ever see in a film, boasts a solid soundtrack, and promises a sequel (Tourista) that never got made. I respect its ambition, if not its end product.

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