Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
The 1980s had its share of era-defining stars, many of whom have turned up in the panels of this very column over the last few months. However, rarely would they all appear together in a single film, or else the public would tremble under the awesome might that they would collectively project. Lewis John Carlino, having just directed the Academy Award nominated The Great Santini, decided to take up this challenge, gathering the soon-to-be-80s-stars Andrew McCarthy, John Cusack, Virginia Madsen, Lolita Davidovich, and Alan Ruck before their individual star power could blind if aligned too closely together.
Jonathan Ogner (Andrew McCarthy, Mannequin) doesn’t look like he will fit into the New England prep school he has been sent to, especially after a cruel prank pulled by Franklin ‘Skip’ Burroughs IV (Rob Lowe, I Melt With You). When Jonathan reciprocates, the two become best friends. After their hijinks get Jonathan banned from going near the local girls’ school, he decides to head out to Chicago to gain sexual experience and enhance his reputation. There he meets the older Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset), who he begins to have an affair with. Things get weird when Jonathan discovers that Ellen is actually Skip’s mother. Awkward.
Class wasn’t just the debut of the people in front of the camera, but one of the early collaborations of writers Jim Kouf and David Greenwald. Kouf would later go on to co-write blockbuster hits like National Treasure, while Greenwald is perhaps best known to cult audiences as one of the key writers and executive producers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer during its golden years of the first three seasons. While the seeds for their later successes may have been sewn here, Class is a far cry from either of those achievements. The main problem is that the film never quite decides what it wants to be. On the one hand, it is a series of crazy adventures and pranks in an exclusive high-school, the kind that are virtually indistinguishable from others of the era. Yet at the same time, it is also The Graduate for the 1980s, although without any of the social commentary that Mike Nichols infused into his 1967 film.
The most unforgettable scene in Class is the first sexual encounter of McCarthy and Bisset in an elevator, where she pretty much molests him with the now-classic line “Which do you prefer: going up, or going down?”. The film switches tone rapidly throughout, flipping from the kind of casual nudity that we just don’t see enough of any more, to some borderline sinister sex scenes between McCarthy’s Crazy Eyes™ and Bisset. The film actually changes gears completely once the action moves to the Burroughs estate, with a psycho-sexual element entering the fray. It’s almost as if there were at least two movies that Kouf and Greenwald had handed director Carlino, and he couldn’t decide which one he liked best, so made them both. The whole thing is wrapped up with a bit of a “boys will be boys” fist fight, and the promise that no woman will ever come between Jonathan and Skip again, even if it is one of their mothers.
For some, Class may just be a place to visit the very early performances of future stars. One memorable scene in which John Cusack (who would have his breakout role in The Sure Thing two years later) tries to hide a cigarette from one of the supervising staff is priceless. For others it may just be the excuse you need to see Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy in women’s underwear. Class may not be consistent, but it has its moments and would serve as the launching pad for some of the biggest heartthrobs of the decade.