For the past two and a half weeks, we’ve been reviewing 80 of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school films ever made. We’ve been going in chronological order, starting with two films from 1946 and then working our way through the years that followed. After 46 reviews, we are now ready to enter the 1990s.
And what better way to kick off the 90s than by taking a look at a film from 1992 that very few people seem to have ever heard of?
School Ties takes place in the 1950s, which of course means that everyone dresses like either James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause or Troy Donaue in A Summer Place. It also means that the soundtrack is full of the same songs that tend to turn up in every film about the 1950s. David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is a working-class teen from Pennsylvania* who wins a football scholarship to attend an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts. At first, David struggles to fit in. Not only are all of his classmates rich but they’re also extremely anti-Semitic. However, David wins them over by playing hard on the football field and hiding the fact that he’s Jewish. However, when the jealous Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon) discovers that David is a Jew, he reveals his secret and David is forced to confront his prejudiced classmates.
School Ties is one of those extremely well-intentioned films that’s never quite as good as you might hope. With the exception of David and Charlie, the characters are all pretty thinly drawn and there’s more than a few subplots that really don’t really work. For instance, Zeljko Ivanek shows up playing a sadistic French teacher who harasses one of Fraser’s friends (played by Andrew Lowery) and, as I watched Ivanek drive Lowery to the point of a nervous breakdown over proper verb conjugation, it occurred to me that I knew Ivanek was evil as soon as he showed up wearing his little bow tie and his beret. (It’s also interesting how French teachers are always evil in films like this.)
That said, the message of School Ties is still a timely one. On the surface, the message of “Don’t be an intolerant, prejudiced prick,” might seem pretty simplistic and self-explanatory. However, every day we’re confronted with evidence that there are still people out there who don’t understand this simple concept. As such, it’s a message that can stand being repeated a few times.
(Seriously, don’t be an intolerant, prejudiced prick.)
When seen today, School Ties is mostly interesting for who appears in it. For instance, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Cole Hauser all show up here, 5 years before they would all co-star in Good Will Hunting. One of the anti-Semitic students is played by Anthony Rapp who, a year later, would appear with Affleck and Hauser in Dazed and Confused. Fraser’s sympathetic roommate is played by Chris O’Donnell. As for Brendan Fraser himself, it’s a bit odd to see him playing such a dramatic role but he’s convincing and believable as a football player. It’s a good-looking cast and yes, you better believe that there’s a fight scene that takes place in a shower. If you’ve ever wanted to see Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon wrestling each other while naked — well, this is the film to see.
* Interestingly enough, David’s family lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania so I guess David could very well have gone to elementary school with Joe Biden and he may have family working at Dunder-Mifflin.