Thursday, May 28, 2009

With Honors (1994) [PG-13] ***


It's a frigid December, and four Harvard seniors are sharing an old Cambridge boarding house. There's arrogant, boorish Monty (Brendan Fraser), casual, fun-loving Courtney (Moira Kelly), politically radical Everett (Patrick Dempsey) and up-tight Jeffrey (Josh Hamilton). Late one night, while Monty is working on his public-policy thesis, which he expects to earn him graduation with honors, his computer hard disc crashes. With no backup disc, and only one printed copy of the thesis, Monty panics and decides to make another copy.

On the way to the copy center he slips on the icy sidewalk, and his thesis ends up in the basement of the Widener Library. With Courtney distracting the library night guard, Monty sneaks in and goes searching for his thesis. He discovers homeless Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), living in secret in the library's basement. Simon is reading his thesis, and as he finishes each page, he tosses it into the boiler room fire. Desperate to get his thesis back, Monty agrees to Simon's extortionate demands: for each thing (meal, bath, bed for the night, etc.) that Monty provides for him, Simon will give him back one page of his thesis.

Monty has no choice, and so, what begins as distrustful animosity, grows over the following weeks and months into an uneasy partnership, and then into friendship. Both Monty and Simon learn that you cannot judge a person by his clothes, his living conditions, his past experiences or his social status. And when he learns that Simon has progressive asbestosis and needs medical attention, Monty develops some much-needed humility and compassion, and is able to put his thesis and his honors graduation into perspective.

The screenplay and acting are uniformly excellent, especially Fraser, Kelly, Pesci and Gore Vidal. Although critics panned this film, audiences generally enjoyed it, so if you appreciate poignant yet uplifting coming-of-age comedy-dramas from the '90s, films like Finding Forrester, and Good Will Hunting, you might really enjoy With Honors.

Labels: christmas, college, comedy, drama, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=17, viewers=73)