Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer’s Body

Today, I’m going to take a look at the 2009 horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.

The plot of Jennifer’s Body is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A newly possessed high school cheerleader turns into a succubus who specializes in killing her male classmates. Can her best friend put an end to the horror?

The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody, who previously won an Academy Award for Juno.  Her other works have included the television shows United States of Tara and One Mississippi, as well as the movies Young Adult and Paradise.

Jennifer’s Body was directed by Karyn Kusama, who also directed the films Aeon Flux, The Invitation, and contributed a segment to the anthology film XX.

The cast of Jennifer’s Body includes Megan Fox (Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Mean Girls), Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim vs The World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Adam Brody (The O.C., Yoga Hosers, CHIPS), Juan Riedinger (Narcos), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Spider-Man, The Accountant, The Ladykillers), and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Parks & Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy).

The cinematographer for the film was M. David Mullen, who also shot The Love Witch, Akeelah and the Bee, The Astronaut Farmer, and numerous episodes of television series like Big Love, United States of Tara, Get Shorty, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mad Men.

Plummy Tucker served as the editor for Jennifer’s Body, and also cut the films Aeon Flux and The Invitation for director Karyn Kusama. Notably, Tucker also served as editor for the miniseries 11.22.63.

The music for the film is credited to both Theodore Shapiro (Tropic Thunder, Trumbo, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory, Idiocracy, Old School) and Stephen Barton (Call of Duty 4, Titanfall).

The town in the movie – Devil’s Kettle – is named after a waterfall in Minnesota’s Judge Magney State Park, which flows into a massive pothole, seemingly into nothingness.

As a tie-in to Jennifer’s Body, a graphic novel was made that expanded on a number of the background characters in the film, and revealed additional details about the monster.

The monster/demon that possesses Fox’s character in the film is, based on its stated details and description, a succubus – a monster from folklore that takes the form of a women, and practices predatory seduction.

The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was named to the 2007 Black List, which is an annual honor given to a handful of unproduced screenplays deemed to be of high quality. Other screenplays on the list also made it to the screen, such as Selma, The Road, Source Code, Slumdog Millionaire, Zombieland, The Wolf of Wall Street, Doubt, The Revenant, and The Town.

One element of Jennifer’s Body that was covered widely in the media was a kissing sequence between stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Both actresses spoke publicly about the scene, as well as writer Diablo Cody. While many assumed that this sequence was included due to pressure from producers for marketing purposes, Cody has claimed that it was always part of the screenplay, but was sensationalized by audiences and the media:

“if the two protagonists of the film were a guy and a girl and in a particularly tense moment, they shared a kiss, no one would say it was gratuitous. But the fact that they’re women means it’s some kind of stunt. It was intended to be something profound and meaningful…Obviously we knew people were going to totally sensationalize it.”

 

While the kissing sequence was apparently in line with Cody and Kusama’s vision, the marketing for the film was almost certainly not, and is what most people attribute the film’s critical and financial failure to. At least one critic blamed the film’s poor reception on “misguided, boy-targeted marketing,” and the film’s co-star, Adam Brody, publicly indicated his displeasure with the campaign, remarking:

“I do think it should win a Razzie for Worst Ad Campaign Ever. Seriously. They couldn’t have done a worse poster or trailer if that’s what they fucking set out to do.”

Financially, Jennifer’s Body proved to be far from a blockbuster: in its lifetime theatrical release, it brought in a box office total of $31.5 million on a production budget of $15 million. Critically, it didn’t fare well on its release: it currently holds a 5.2/10 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 43% critics and 34% from audiences.

That being said, Jennifer’s Body is in the midst of a critical re-assessment, and is being revisited by many. Recent articles in publications like Bloody Disgusting and Cosmopolitan have encouraged viewers to give the film another shot, now that the film’s marketing campaign is a distant memory.

It goes without saying that there is a weird mismatch between the film’s marketing and its actual content, and that almost certainly had a huge influence on its critical and financial success. However, when the film is separated from its context, there are still some notable issues that hinder it.

To begin with, I think that there is definitely some potential to the concept behind Jennifer’s Body, but many of its core elements have definitely been done much better in other films. It Follows uses anxieties and sexual terror adeptly, The Faculty utilizes a high school setting for a horror film ideally, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night take a similar, predatory adolescent girl and does much more interesting work with the concept. While I do like some of the trope subversions in Jennifer’s Body, such as establishing teenage boys as the targeted victims, it is only addressed once in the film. This is the sort of detail that could have been played up more, and delved into effective satire of the way society treats young women. Those little details can be the difference between a mediocre movie and a good one, if you ask me.

Another issue with this film is its tone. While horror-comedy can be an effective combination, the director has to play a balancing act to pull it off. Here, Cody’s dialogue style creates a distinct tonal mismatch in what is visually a very dark and somber film, which might have been righted in the hands of a different director. There are a few good lines (“lasagna with teeth”), but her writing doesn’t work as well here as it did with the more light-hearted Juno, at least not with the way this film is shot. Frankly, Jennifer’s Body doesn’t fully commit to comedy or horror, and vacillation between them takes nuance to pull off well, which is lacking here.

As far as the performances go, I found Fox to be perfectly decent in her role, though it is definitely more limited than you would imagine – she’s nearly a tertiary character. The real weight of the film is on Seyfried, who does her best to make Cody’s dialogue sound organic. However, she doesn’t handle it nearly as well as Ellen Page, and it comes off as stilted at times.

Personally, I found the most distracting element of the film to be the soundtrack. The selections of contemporaneous alternative music dates the movie, and the selections frequently don’t fit the atmosphere of their scenes. It is pretty obvious that the film was shoehorning in a tie-in soundtrack, in an attempt to bring in an additional market to the theater. Unfortunately, on a rewatch many years later, it definitely hurts the film. At the time, I’m not sure how distracting the music would have been, but it definitely stands out now.

Overall, I think Jennifer’s Body is a pretty mediocre movie that squandered some great potential, even without a poorly-conceived marketing campaign. That said, I think people should give it another shot – particularly women. I suspect there is more here to resonate with for women viewers, which is part of why the male-centered marketing didn’t make sense in the first place. If you think the concept sounds interesting, give it a watch.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Today, I’m going to dig into the less-than-beloved comic book film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The plot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is summarized on IMDb as follows

A look at Wolverine’s early life, in particular his time with the government squad Team X and the impact it will have on his later years.

The screenplay for X-Men Origins: Wolverine was written by David Benioff (Game of Thrones, Troy) and Skip Woods (Sabotage, Hitman: Agent 47). However, uncredited rewrites were also done by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, White House Down, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile).

The character of Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #180 in October 1974, and was created by the trio of Len Wein, John Romita, and Roy Thomas. Prior to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the character had appeared in the previous X-Men films, and would go on to star in two quasi-sequels to this movie: The Wolverine and Logan. On the small screen, the character has appeared in a litany cartoons, and is one of the most recognizable and popular Marvel superheroes.

The director for the film was Gavin Hood, who also directed the films Ender’s Game, Tsotsi, and Eye In The Sky.

The cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine includes Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige, Prisoners), Liev Schreiber (Scream, The Manchurian Candidate, Spotlight), Danny Huston (21 Grams, The Aviator), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Deadpool 2, Green Lantern), Dominic Monaghan (Lost, The Lord of The Rings) and Taylor Kitsch (Waco, Battleship, John Carter).

The cinematographer for the film was Donald McAlpine, whose credits include Romeo + Juliet, Ender’s Game, Predator, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Peter Pan, and The Time Machine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine had two credited editors: Nicolas De Toth (Stoker, Live Free Or Die Hard, Sum Of All Fears, Bicentennial Man) and Megan Gill (Eye In The Sky, Ghost In The Darkness, Tsotsi).

The music for the film was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who also provided music for the movies Blackhat, The Town, Cowboys & Aliens, Gone Baby Gone, and the video games Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3.

Prior to the film’s official release, a workprint copy was leaked online before the addition of much of the effects work. This leaked version was greatly criticized by fans online, and the studio blamed it for the film not taking in a higher total gross once it did release.

The negative fan reaction to the film, particularly to the portrayal of the fan-favorite character Deadpool, led to a groundswell movement lobbying for Ryan Reynolds to get his own movie to portray the character. It took years to muster studio support, but thanks to a demo leak that further riled up fans in support, Deadpool ultimately released in 2016, with a sequel two years later. Both films freely and specifically criticize X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with the second film going to far as to rewrite and re-enact a scene from the film.

Hugh Jackman specifically recommended and advocated for both his co-star, Liev Schreiber, and the film’s director, Gavin Hood, for their parts in the production. Despite this, Hugh Jackman was ultimately disappointed with the final product of the film.

The character Gambit had repeatedly been cut from previous X-Men movies, despite his wild popularity among fans. However, as with Deadpool, fans were less than pleased with his appearance and behavior on screen. Also, as was the case with Deadpool, fans have been lobbying for a solo Gambit movie for years since the disappointment of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, though progress on the film seems to have indefinitely stalled.

Brian Cox, who played the character of Stryker in X-Men 2, and Tyler Mane, who portrayed Sabretooth in X-Men, were both turned down for reprising their roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, despite both actors indicating interest.

Reportedly, conflicts between the studio and Gavin Hood were extreme throughout the production, to the point that a mediator had to get involved to ease tensions.

Will.i.am of the band The Black Eyed Peas is a huge fan of the X-Men, and particularly of the mutant Nightcrawler. Despite not being an actor, he was given a role in the film, as well as a Nightcrawler-esque character to portray.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a box office success, taking in $373 million on a $150 million production budget. However, the studio regarded this as an under-performance, citing that the leaked workprint siphoned interest away from the theatrical release.

Despite the ticket sales, the reception to the film was mixed-to-negative. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.6/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 37% from critics and 58% from audiences. In the years since the film’s release, however, with the popularity of the Deadpool movies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has retroactively earned a reputation as a complete failure, and an embarrassment to the franchise.

To begin with, there are some positives to X-Men Origins: Wolverine that are absolutely worth mentioning. First off, Liev and Hugh have fantastic chemistry, and light up the screen whenever they have the chance to work off of each other. I don’t even think there is a debate that Liev is the definitive portrayal of Sabretooth on film. Likewise, Ryan Reynolds got his chance here to show off his Deadpool skills. Without his brief scenes as Wade Wilson in this film, there is absolutely no way that the Deadpool films get made. So, even if you can just appreciate this as an audition tape, that is a positive worth mentioning.

Now, on to some major points of criticism. First off, I think one of the biggest issues with the film is the performance of Huston as Stryker. This is a film that could really use a good, compelling villain. Making things even harder, the same character had just been portrayed brilliantly by Brian Cox, who pulled out all of the stops to give one of the better villain performances in a comic book movie. Huston, on the other hand, just feels like a slimy bureaucrat – he isn’t menacing or imposing, and he doesn’t telegraph hatred or loathing as effectively or hauntingly as Cox did in the previous portrayal. The result is a huge gap in the film, where there should be a compelling central antagonist.

Another huge issue with the film is the contrast between early sequences and the rest of the film. I personally found that the introductory sequences were significantly more interesting than the rest of the movie. As an audience member who had already seen the previous X-Men films, I can confidently say that I would rather spend time with Wolverine while working with a black ops squadron, or Wolverine while fighting in wars through the ages, than watching a Wolverine story unfold that we already know the details of and ending to. The Weapon X story, after the events of X-Men 2, is just paint by numbers – there’s not really any stakes to a story the audience already knows, which is part of why prequels can be quite tricky. The movie should have introduced some more compelling new characters and relationships, but the ones that it attempted just had no effective gravity. The most colorful and intriguing characters are unceremoniously dispatched or neutered within just a few screen minutes of their introductions.

Another significant issue with Origins, and one that was pointed out with criticisms of the leaked workprint, is that it was laden with unwise and poorly executed effects. The Blob, for example, looks terrible, to the point that the fat suit comes off as comical. More importantly, the crucial adamantium claws on Wolverine look jarringly unconvincing, due to an over-reliance on computer generation to render them, when props would work far more effectively. However, for the most part, I found the effects to be less distracting than I expected: looking back now, years later, it isn’t so different than any bad CGI from the mid-2000s.

Perhaps the true coffin nail for this film was baked into its (capitalistic) intention to please fans. Including characters like Deadpool and Gambit had to have been done due to the popularity of those characters. Unfortunately, the key crew didn’t have any knowledge beyond that – there was a lack of understanding of characters, and what made them popular in the first place. The consequence of this ignorance was the massive backfire that ensued, which hurts the reputation of the film to this day. Haphazard fan service attempts simply don’t cut it these days – die-hard fans now demand fidelity and vision, rather than just cameos and facades that merely allude to their beloved source materials.

All in all, Origins is basically a mediocre popcorn action movie. I think it is hated more today than it really should be, due to the production so badly mishandling fan service. While the movie is definitely not good, it also isn’t a complete disaster by any means – Jackman is still fun as Wolverine, Sabretooth is an improvement, and the brief Wade Wilson moments are great. We Hate Movies refers to this sort of film as a “hangover movie”: a film you can have this on in the background while nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning: it requires neither attention nor energy to consume, but is just enough of a pointless spectacle with highlight moments to be tolerable. It is still not a recommendation from me, though: this is a movie that is probably best to leave it where it is.

Ivy On Celluloid: Accepted

Accepted

For today’s Ivy On Celluloid, I’m going to look at the portrayal of higher education in the 2006 comedy, Accepted.

The plot of Accepted is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A high school slacker who’s rejected by every school he applies to opts to create his own institution of higher learning, the South Harmon Institute of Technology, on a rundown piece of property near his hometown.

The screenplay for Accepted has three credited writers: Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings), Bill Collage (Assassin’s Creed, Allegiant), and Mark Perez (Game Night, The Country Bears).

Accepted was directed by Steve Pink, a writer and director who also worked on the films High Fidelity, Hot Tub Time Machine, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Grosse Pointe Blank, and the shows Santa Clarita Diet and Cobra Kai.

The cast of the film includes Justin Long (Tusk, Drag Me To Hell, Waiting…), Jonah Hill (The Wolf Of Wall Street, War Dogs, 21 Jump Street, Moneyball), Maria Thayer (State of Play), Blake Lively (The Town, The Shallows), Anthony Heald (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs), Lewis Black (The Daily Show, Inside Out), and Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules, Twilight).

The cinematographer for Accepted was Matthew F. Leonetti, whose shooting credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Santa’s Slay, The Butterfly Effect, Hard To Kill, Action Jackson, Red Heat, Weird Science, The Bat People, and Dragnet.

Accepted was edited by Scott Hill, whose other cutting credits include Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, Here Comes The Boom, and Zookeeper.

In 2011, a loose Bollywood remake of Accepted was made, titled F.A.L.T.U.. It used many of the same elements as its predecessor, but changed the setting of the film. The world “faltu” in Hindi translates to “useless” in English.

Accepted was made on a budget of $23 million, on which it took in $38.5 million in its lifetime theatrical release. Taking into account advertising and post-production costs, the film probably wasn’t terribly profitable. Critically, the reception to Accepted was mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds scores of 37% from critics and 72% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.5/10.

As far as college comedies go, this is one of the more bearable ones that I’ve come across. There is still a lot of crassness and sexism to be found, to be sure, but it didn’t make me as livid as a lot of other college comedy films.

When it comes to the portrayal of higher education in Accepted, this is a movie that deals with some issues that most college stories don’t necessarily touch on, like what the minimum requirements for a university are, what the purpose of higher education is, and what fraud looks like in this realm.

The story of Accepted takes place in the state of Ohio, though the specific location is fictitious. Harmon College, as it is portrayed, it not a real institution in Ohio, though it could be a stand-in for any number of the many universities and colleges in Ohio. Interestingly, there is a Harmon College that exists within the University of Central Missouri, but it isn’t an autonomous institution.

A number of other higher education institutions are mentioned but not seen in the film. Oddly, some of these are real universities, whereas others are not. For instance, B is rejected from “Ohio State College,” which is clearly meant as a fictional stand in for the Ohio State University. Rory, however, is rejected from the very real Yale University, and an unnamed character is shown celebrating an acceptance into Princeton University.

At one point, the topic of B’s admissions essay comes up. Apparently, his essay was themed around how he “doesn’t have a clue” what to do with his life, which his sister claims is part of why he failed to get accepted anywhere. Later in the film, it is shown that B is pretty good improvisational speaker, and is able to weave complicated deceptions and inspirational speeches from thin air. At his core, he is a gifted storyteller / huckster, which is a skill which might have helped him out with his essay. In an article in the US News & World Report, it is stated that individualism, likability, and vivid storytelling are all key components to a successful and effective admissions essay. Personally, I think that if B had channeled his existing skills, he might have been able to concoct a brilliant essay that would have possibly compensated for his insufficient grades. However, it sounds like he couldn’t muster any genuine passion for his applications, which probably came through in his writing. That – rather than just his topic of choice – likely contributed to his inability to stand out in the admissions review process.

In an early scene, B tries to break his rejection news to his parents by arguing that it is “financially irresponsible to go to college.” This is not an uncommon line of thinking, particularly as the cost of schooling has continued to rise, and success stories of tech industry drop-outs have circulated and enchanted countless budding entrepreneurs. However, his parents immediately shoot him down, with his father stating that:

Society has rules. The first rule is, you go to college. If you want a happy and successful life, you go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college.

This is an interesting example of a generational divide when it comes to perceptions of higher education. People who went to college decades ago probably still hold on to the belief that a college is a sort of guarantee of a high quality of life, and the absence of one is a guarantee of the opposite. There was definitely a time where achieving a college degree alone was enough to raise someone’s social status, when it was a far less common achievement. Now, however, it isn’t that simple. College is an opportunity for learning and connections that can eventually lead to more than that. It isn’t, by any means, a guarantee of success.

Something that has always bugged me about this film is the apparent absence of community colleges. In theory, any number of the South Harmon students could have gone to a community college, as they are generally open enrollment. Many students who don’t get into the school they want, or can’t afford the price tag, will take community college classes and later transfer to another institution. While this pathway is definitely not flawless, it has proven viable for more than a few students over the years, and is likely preferable to not taking classes at all. If acceptance (as opposed to rejection) is what South Harmon students were looking for, community colleges is where they could have found it.

B’s sister, who is apparently a pre-teen, is shown to be already preparing for college admissions despite her young age, in the hopes that she will “have a shot.” Their parents are supportive of this, which is becoming increasingly common. In the hopes of standardized test successes and any potential advantage in applications, children are beginning college preparation younger and younger.

One of the central characters of the film, Daryl, is said to be an all-state quality wide receiver. However, at some point, he winds up with a prohibitive injury, which leads to his promised football scholarship being reneged. Prior to the formation of South Harmon, he is left completely adrift, without any clear options.

This is a very real issue that faces college athletes: any injury could not only spell the end of their scholarship, but in some cases the end of a potentially lucrative career as well. A single injury can stand between multiple millions of dollars worth of contracts, and being left with nothing but immense debt and a vacancy where a college degree should be. Consider the story of University of Oklahoma basketball player Kyle Hardrick, who suffered an injury shortly into playing at the university:

As Hardrick tries to resume his career, he has been unable to obtain a medical hardship waiver, something he needs to regain a year of college eligibility. His family has been stuck with tuition bills since his scholarship was not renewed. And with those bills unpaid, he also can’t get his academic transcripts from Oklahoma to transfer to another school.

“You believe that your child will be taken care of on and off that court throughout their college career,” said Valerie Hardrick, Kyle’s mother, at a congressional roundtable discussion last week. “My insurance does not cover all of Kyle’s medical bills.”

With scholarships renewed on a year-to-year basis, stories like Hardrick’s emerge every year across the country.

In an article titled “The Most Evil Thing About College Sports” on Slate.com, Josh Levin writes:

An athletic scholarship is not a four-year educational guarantee. What few college sports fans—and not enough college recruits—realize is that a university can yank that scholarship after one, two, or three years without cause. Coach doesn’t like you? He’s free to cut you loose. Sitting the bench? You could lose your free ride to a new recruit.

[One] roster management strategy, seen often at AlabamaLSU, and other SEC schools, is to rescind a promised scholarship just before the student-athlete’s freshman year.

Daryl’s is not unlike the other stories described here. If anything, he is somewhat fortunate to have been injured prior to getting to college, when a lot of debt could have been on the line.

The character Rory in the film faced another rejection scenario – she applied to only one highly-selective college, and didn’t get in. In this case, her target was Yale University. In her words, her rejection was due to “too many rich kids with mediocre grades and well-connected parents this year” applying for admission this year, meaning there was no room for her. In 2017, Yale was among the most selective of colleges, accepting between 6% and 7% of applicants. Even with an immaculate application, there was no guarantee for Rory’s admission to the school. That said, there is a long history of elitism and admissions bias in the Ivy League and other top-tier institutions, so she is probably not entirely off-base with her assumption. Almost certainly, a child of a trustee of donor would have gotten preferential consideration over here, in one way or another.

When initially designing their fake college, this first steps the gang makes are to design fake acceptance letters, as well as a facade website. Some people might thing that this is beyond belief – surely people would just Google the school and look at the website, and immediately get fishy?

Recently, I read a fantastic book on fraud in higher education called Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas. Shockingly, both fake degrees and entirely fake institutions are really common, and people fall for them absolutely all the time. A couple of examples of entirely fake institutions that conferred fake credentials for years were LaSalle University in Louisiana and Columbia State University, both of which took in millions upon millions of dollars in profits before being shut down. Records of fake universities even go back all the way to the 14th century:

So many new universities opened, the University of Paris begged the pope to stop them…because some of the newer ones, more interested in making money than offering education, got into the business of…selling admission…and eventually the selling of degrees themselves.

Bear, J. & Ezell, A. (2012). Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas. p. 34

Even more disturbing than how profitable and prolific fake universities are, is just how easy it is to get a hold of one of their degrees. In 1984, just to see how easy it really was, U.S. House of Representatives staff took $1800, and used it to buy a doctorate from the fake Union University in Los Angeles. The fake degree was written out to Rep. Claude Pepper, thus making him, nominally, “Dr. Pepper.” Taking it a step further, the staff members then made up their own fake university, and displayed to the House of Representatives how easy the process was (Bear & Ezell, p. 38).

The biggest difference between South Harmon Institute of Technology and most fake universities in real life is that “real” fake universities rarely, if ever, have a physical campus. Today, almost all fake universities utilize the internet as their primary platform, whereas they previously did a lot of their business over the phone through cold-calling. The audacity and impracticality of trying to pull off a false campus is clear from watching Accepted: the whole process is unbelievably complicated and tenuous. After all, imagine how much easier it would have been for B to concoct an online college: he wouldn’t have had to invest in a location, wouldn’t have had to improvise in his interactions with students, wouldn’t have had to deal with the liability of housing students, etc. However, this gets into another interesting aspect of the film – the guidelines for accreditation, as outlined in the climactic hearing with a state accrediting board.

As stated in the film, there are two sets of qualifications needed for SHIT to earn accreditation. First:

The state defines a college as a body of people with a shared common purpose of a higher education…that’s us, with the word ‘higher’ kind of loosely defined – B

As B notes, SHIT loosely qualifies as a college based on this definition. Thus, the team has to meet three additional stated requirements for accreditation – they have to prove that their college has a facility, a curriculum, and a faculty. While they ultimately provisionally pass accreditation by the skin of their teeth, there are a whole lot of problems with this whole process.

First off, the state does not accredit colleges. That work is done by independent accrediting agencies, such as the Higher Learning Commission or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. So, the entire basis of the hearing is bizarre and inaccurate.

Here is an example of the guidelines that an accreditation agency, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, uses. It has 9 general standards for accreditation, each of which has between 5 and 49 specific points beneath them. NEASC states that each of these standards “articulates a dimension of institutional quality”, and that “serious weaknesses in a particular area may threaten the institution’s accreditation.” There is, to be blunt, no chance that B and company could have weaseled their way through an actual accreditation process by one of these rigorous agencies. Their ad hoc institution simply could not meet these sorts of qualifications, given the amount of red tape and planning that would be necessary for the process.

In the film, the villainous President of Harmon College is shown to be planning an expansion of the campus into the impoverished surrounding area, in order to build a ceremonial gateway. This is something that actually happens as well – the University of Southern California, for example, recently expanded further into the low-income neighborhood of Inglewood, though it was in order to create more student housing.

Lewis Black’s character in Accepted was said to have once been a college Dean, but apparently “resigned” by sending bag of dog feces to his university’s president many years before the events of the movie. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to dig up any similar instances of over-the-top resignations of Deanships. However, in some ways, Black’s character’s opinions on and frustrations with the state of higher ed echo that of former MIT Dean Christine Ortiz, who left her Deanship in order to start an innovative, experimental university called Station1 that would forego traditional classes, classrooms, or departments.

The curriculum design that is shown at South Hampton is, to put it lightly, as bizarre as it is non-rigorous and disgusting. Some classes, as far as I can tell, consist of only leering at women, or learning skeevy pick-up artist tricks (“Hitting on Strippers” stands out). In fact, a huge number of the shown classes are centered on the study of “girls,” (not to be confused with women’s studies) as the primarily-male student body was able to design all of the course offerings. Other classes included real arts-based teachings, like wood carving, music, sculpting, fashion design, and the culinary arts, but most of the classes are shown to be effectively either nonsense, immensely creepy, or both.

One of the key selling points for South Hampton Institute of Technology in the film is that there are no traditional grades. In reality, there are some colleges that have tried to circumvent the stresses and anxieties that come along with traditional grading. Reed College, for example, records letter grades, but doesn’t release them to students. The rationale is that students can then focus on intellectual and academic pursuits instead of aiming for just a letter grade.

At one point, it is revealed that the student population of the South Harmon Institute of Technology is roughly 300. This is a very, very small student population, to the point that it would comfortably land among the smallest higher education institutions in the United States, most of which are seminaries or highly specialized art, music, or architecture schools.

As a film, I’m not a huge fan of Accepted. That said, I appreciate that it is different than most college movies, and deals with different issues related to higher education. It also actually feels like a movie that the cast and crew enjoyed making, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with these. Still, I feel like there was far more satiric potential with this movie than was ultimately tapped into by the production. As far as a recommendation goes, I think I can lightly recommend it, with a distinct caveat for the shallow, crass, sexist content of the school’s curriculum.

Ivy On Celluloid: The Skulls

The Skulls

In today’s edition of Ivy on Celluloid, I want to dig into the portrayal of higher education in Rob Cohen’s conspiracy thriller, The Skulls.

The plot of The Skulls is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Luke McNamara, a college senior from a working class background joins a secret elitist college fraternity organization called “The Skulls”, in hope of gaining acceptance into Harvard Law School. At first seduced by the club’s trapping of power and wealth, a series of disturbing incidents, such as his best friends suicide, leads Luke to investigate the true nature of the organization and the truth behind his friends supposed suicide. He starts realizing that his future and possibly his life is in danger.

The screenplay of The Skulls was written by John Pogue, who has credits on films like U.S. Marshals, Rollerball, Ghost Ship, and The Quiet Ones.

The Skulls was directed by Rob Cohen, whose other directorial credits include DragonHeart, Stealth, xXx, and Alex Cross.

The cast of The Skulls includes Joshua Jackson (The Mighty Ducks, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Urban Legend, Fringe, Dawson’s Creek), Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furous, She’s All That, Into The Blue, Pleasantville), Hill Harper (Homeland, Concussion, CSI: NY), Leslie Bibb (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Midnight Meat Train), Christopher McDonald (Quiz Show, Broken Flowers, The Faculty, The Iron Giant, Happy Gilmore), William Petersen (Manhunter, To Live And Die In LA, CSI), and Craig T. Nelson (Coach, Poultergeist).

The cinematographer for the film was Shane Hurlbut, who also shot Terminator Salvation, Into the Blue, Need for Speed, Semi-Pro, We Are Marshall, and Drumline.

The editor for The Skulls was Peter Amundson, who has cut some other notable films –  Pacific Rim, Gamer, Hellboy, The Buttefly Effect, Godzilla, Blade II, and Shoot ‘Em Up, to name a few.

The music used in The Skulls was composed by Randy Edelman, who also provided music for the television series MacGuyver and Alvin & The Chipmunks, as well as for movies like The Mask, Balls of Fury, xXx, Corky Romano, Anaconda, Ghostbusters 2, My Cousin Vinny, Executive Action, and Twins.

Film critic Roger Ebert famously despised The Skulls, and gave it a biting review. In it, he states that the movie is “so ludicrous in so many different ways it achieves a kind of forlorn grandeur.” Most other critics were of a same mind – The Skulls currently holds a dismal Rotten Tomatoes critic rating of 8%. Audiences were hardly fond of it either, giving it a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes and an IMDb user score of 5.6/10. Financially, despite the bad reviews, The Skulls easily took in a profit on its production budget of $15 million – all in all, it had lifetime theatrical gross of $50.8 million.

The Skulls, as the critics have described it, is “boneheaded,” “ludicrous,” “ridiculous,” and “stupid.” However, it definitely had a solid acorn of a concept for a thriller – lots of people believe that secret Ivy League societies have sinister intentions, and far too much power and influence on society. As far as the portrayal of higher education goes, The Skulls is a bit of a doozy – while there are definitely real inspirations, there is also a lot of conjecture, assumptions, and illogical leaps made for dramatic effect. Let’s start with some basics.

To begin with, let’s figure out the host school for the plot. The real Skull and Bones society, which The Skulls are based on, is located at Yale University, so it a isn’t a huge leap to assume that Yale is the story’s setting. Adding to this, a number of other Ivy League institutions are mentioned by name throughout the film, including Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, and Princeton University. However, the clear inspiration – Yale University – is never explicitly mentioned. However, there are a ton of allusions to the institution in the film’s details. First, the inclusion of their Ivy League fellows in the crew competition is a pretty big hint, particularly as Yale is conspicuously absent from the commentary. Going even further than that, the school that serves as the backdrop for the events of the story is shown to have Yale’s colors, Yale’s mascot (bulldogs), and there are even large “Y”s located all over the campus. The production clearly did the bare minimum to conceal that Yale was their target of criticism – they wanted people to know, but didn’t want to be so explicit as to open themselves to potential legal ramifications.

In the opening scene of the film, a class is shown discussing the nature of modern American society. Specifically, they are discussing whether it fits the definition of a meritocracy or an aristocracy. This is a huge part of the conflict of the film, as it follows a commoner trying to rise in social status through meritocratic means. However, this is also a point of great debate when it comes to discussions of college in general. Higher education institutions, particularly the most prestigious of colleges, have an elitist reputation, which comes from years of preferential admissions policies and prohibitive costs. Are colleges really meritocratic, as they claim to be, or are they a function of an aristocratic, classist society? Critics of the Ivy League, and traditional higher ed in general, often argue the latter.

As mentioned previously, the inspiration for the film is the long-running secret society at Yale University called Skull and Bones. Ironically, it is hardly much of a secret society anymore – there is not only a wikipedia list of suspected or confirmed notable members, but there was a detailed expose of the society written in 1977 by Ron Rosenbaum, and published in Esquire. Also, if you really had the desire, you could find a litany of conspiracy theory YouTube videos speculating as to the society’s misdeeds. At a certain point, you aren’t really a secret society anymore.

That said, Skull and Bones is far from the only secret society housed at a university. Wouldn’t you know it, but there is a thorough wikipedia page for that too! Some, of course, are more secret than others. At my undergraduate institution, The University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, the secret society known as The Machine was all but an established public entity. Honestly, I don’t think anybody didn’t know about them. From what I understood, though, they mostly just functioned as a corrupt, back-channel bureaucracy.

Early in the film, Luke and Will discuss what they expect their total higher education debt to be by the time they graduate. Luke, assuming he gains admittance to Harvard University’s law school, anticipates to owe between $100,000 to $110,000  for his undergraduate studies at [redacted], and an additional $100,000 to $115,000 for his law school costs at Harvard. According to the Harvard Law website, the total cost for the 2018-2019 academic year is estimated to be $95,930. Assuming that number stays level (tuition raises are hardly uncommon), a full three years of law school at Harvard University would now cost almost $290,000, over twice that of Luke’s 1999-2000 estimate. That isn’t just inflation, either: $115,000 in 2000 is roughly equivalent to $166,700 in 2018. Yale’s undergraduate tuition, meanwhile, is currently estimated at just north of $69,000 per academic year, which is equivalent to $277,720 for a full four years – well above the $100,000 to $110,000 range that Luke notes.

The first assignment given to the new prospective Skulls in the film is to steal a statue from a rival secret society. This isn’t a terribly uncommon prank on college campuses, but the most similar instance in history I can think of is the ritualistic stealing of the The Harvard Lampoon‘s Ibis statue by staff members of the rival student publication, The Harvard Crimson. It has apparently happened many, many times over the years – at one point, the statue was even gifted to a Soviet consul as a symbol of peace, in an attempt to move the statue out of the country.

One of the most ludicrous aspects of The Skulls is the character played by Christopher McDonald. As is stated in the film, he is the Provost of the university (remember, this is essentially Yale University). However, it appears through his actions that he has the skill set and abilities of a special operations agent or a hitman, and is shown attempting/committing murder numerous times.

For context, a Provost is one of the highest positions at a university, and is typically the #2 administrator behind the President. It is the equivalent position to a Vice President, and is sometimes even called a Vice President of Academic Affairs. The idea that such a person would have this skill set is a reach – they would likely be a senior career academic. However, the notion that they would actually use such skills – or even have the time to – is utterly bonkers. Universities are big, complicated mechanisms, and being the #2 ranking person running such an operation doesn’t afford a lot of free time to gallivant about and murder folks. Honestly, at best, they might delegate the task. However, the idea that the Yale University Provost is a gun-slingling, car-chasing, neck-snapping henchman is nothing short of laughable. Try to picture the current Yale University Provost, Dr. Ben Polak, doing anything that McDonald does in this film:

Dr. Polak was an Economics professor for roughly 20 years, and was a passionate member of the University Budget Committee during that time. Unless he has some unexpected hobbies, he doesn’t seem like the kind of dude a secret society would use as muscle.

One of the most notable symbols of The Skulls is a brand, which is located on the wrist of members, and concealed by a watch. While there is no evidence of branding bring done by the real Skull and Bones, the watch detail is apparently accurate: members of the society do receive a wristwatch. In fact, star Joshua Jackson was able to acquire one of these watches, and gave it to director Rob Cohen as a gift.

The climax of the film takes the form of a traditional pistol duel between Luke and Caleb. This got me pretty curious – have there been any formal pistol duels on a college campus? Nowadays, the idea of a firefight between students on campus is horrifying, but duels were a very real (though not necessarily accepted) part of American society for quite some time. As it so happens, I found an example of just such a case. In 1833, two students at South Carolina College engaged in a pistol duel “after an argument over a plate of fish at the college dining hall.” Both young men apparently died of their wounds.

While I am definitely not a fan of The Skulls as a film – it is actually shockingly boring – I definitely think that there was potential from the real-life source material to make an interesting story, particularly when you consult some of the more outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding the Skull and Bones. While it does touch on some contemporary issues in higher education, the foundation in reality is pretty shaky, to the point that it is basically a fantasy film. If the screenplay hadn’t delved into the deeper, wilder conspiracy stuff, there was potential here for a fish-out-of-water, class conflict drama with the exact same premise, that might have even been more interesting (and definitely more accurate and relatable). For what exists, though, this isn’t a movie I can recommend – it is a huge squandering of an intriguing idea and wonderful cast of character actors.

Ivy On Celluloid: Orange County

Orange County

Today, I’m going back to my series on the depictions of higher education on film with the 2002 comedy, Orange County.

The plot of Orange County is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A guidance counselor mistakenly sends out the wrong transcripts to Stanford University under the name of an over-achieving high schooler.

Orange County was written by Mike White, whose other screenplay credits include The Emoji Movie, Pitch Perfect 3, Brad’s Status, Nacho Libre, School of Rock, and previous “Ivy on Celluloid” feature, Dead Man On Campus.

The director for the film was Jake Kasdan, son of noted director, screenwriter, and producer Lawrence Kasdan. His other directorial works include Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, and the recent Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. numerous episodes of the television shows New Girl and Freaks and Geeks.

The cast of Orange County includes Colin Hanks (Fargo, Roswell), Jack Black (High Fidelity, School of Rock, Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, King Kong), Schuyler Fisk (Snow Day, The Baby-Sitters Club), John Lithgow (Harry and the Hendersons, Raising Cain, Cliffhanger, Interstellar, Dexter), Lily Tomlin (The West Wing, Nashville, Short Cuts, I Heart Huckabees, Grace & Frankie, The Magic School Bus), Catherine O’Hara (Best In Show, Home Alone, Wyatt Earp, A Mighty Wind), Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II), Kevin Kline (Wild Wild West, A Fish Called Wanda, The Big Chill), and Chevy Chase (Fletch, Community, Caddyshack, Vacation, Nothing But Trouble).

The cinematographer for Orange County was Greg Gardiner, who also shot such comedic films as Elf, Son of the Mask, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Men In Black II, and Marmaduke.

Likewise, the film’s editor has an extensive resume in comedy: Tara Timpone cut Slackers, Sex Tape, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher, and multiple episodes of the television shows Freaks & Geeks, The Grinder, and Fresh Off the Boat.

The musical score for Orange County was provided by Michael Andrews, who also did music for the movies Donnie Darko, The Big Sick, Dirty Grandpa, Sex Tape, The Heat, and Cyrus, as well as for the television shows Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, and Friends From College.

Jack Black’s part as the stoned, ne’er-do-well older brother of the protagonist was written specifically for him – Black was friends and neighbors with the film’s screenwriter Mike White. The two have gone on to collaborate numerous times over the years.

One of the key points of criticism that was consistently thrown at Orange County at the time of its release was its questionable casting of so many children of Hollywood notables in key roles. For instance, one scathing review from Rita Kempley in The Washington Post read as follows:

If director Jake Kasdan hadn’t been the son of Lawrence, leading man Colin Hanks hadn’t been the son of Tom, and love interest Schuyler Fisk hadn’t been the daughter of Sissy Spacek, would there be an “Orange County”? Probably not.

“Orange County” is strictly a vanity vehicle with a mess of star babies on board. That would be just fine if it didn’t take us down the same old cul-de-sac. But it does, and with a vengeance.

In its lifetime theatrical run, Orange County took in just over $43.3 million on a production budget estimated to be at $18 million, making it a profitable venture if not a blockbuster. Critically, however, the reception was mixed: it currently holds a 6.2/10 user rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% critics and 61% from audiences.

In his review in Variety, Todd McCarthy wrote:

[Kasdan] and White aim very low here and fail to take advantage of the abundant opportunities for social satire that its upper class and academic settings provide…White hasn’t attempted any cultural critique at all.

McCarthy has a really good point in his criticism here – Orange County, at the end of the day, doesn’t have anything to say, which is a big problem. Ultimately, it is a story of the plight of a person with immense privilege trying to get into college. The movie could have at least used self-criticism for comedy – pointing out how many breaks the protagonist has and gets to achieve his ends, none of which are earned. It could have even given us a foil – someone who got into Stanford, despite being poor, a woman, of a marginalized racial identity, etc. The humility and grounding of such an encounter could have served as a moment of maturation for the protagonist. Instead, we get a protagonist who displays immense entitlement, sexism, and elitism who is entirely incapable of self-reflection or empathy for those around him, who ultimately still gets everything he really wants.

To be frank, I absolutely loathe this movie. The protagonist is despicable and unlikable, to the point that I think this movie is an unintentional homage to American Psycho. The comedy, where it exists, isn’t terribly funny, despite a talented cast. Despite all of that, it is a movie about the college admissions process, and thus portrays quite a few aspects of higher education. So, lets get on to an analysis of higher ed in Orange County.

One of the first characters introduced in the film is an unqualified high school English teacher, who is shown to be unfamiliar with the works of Shakespeare. While this is definitely an exaggeration, it alludes to the popular perception that many high school teachers aren’t qualified or prepared to fill their positions.

Also in one of the high school sequences, there is a scenario shown in which a student is given exemption from specific coursework due to trauma/grief. I covered this pretty extensively in my write-up on Dead Man On Campus – basically, schools will make reasonable concessions for grief and trauma experienced by students, but not in the form of a pass or full exemption. Tests and assignments might have extended deadlines, or students can dis-enroll temporarily without penalty, but A’s for grieving don’t seem to actually happen.

At one point in the film, it is revealed that the protagonist scored a 1520 on his SAT, which led him to believe he was a shoo-in at Stanford. At the time of filming, the SAT was graded on a 1600 scale, which subsequently shifted in 2005 to 2400 scale, and then ultimately back to a 1600 scale in 2016. In any case, it is definitely a very good score given the time period. However, even a high SAT score is not a guarantee of admission to an institution like Stanford. Even if everything in the application had gone in accurately and according to plan, there was no guarantee of Stanford admission. The sense of entitlement the character expresses is utterly unjustified. Here are some contemporaneous Stanford University admissions statistics that I was able to dig up online:

12.4 percent of the applicants for fall 2002 were offered admission, compared with 12.7 percent for fall 2001 and 13.2 percent for fall 2000.

So, again, there’s definitely no guarantee of admission here. It is also worth noting that, following that stated trend, Stanford University is even more selective today. In 2017, only 4.73 percent of applicants were ultimately admitted.

In one scene John Lithgow complains that “all writers are poor,” as he puts down his son’s decision to want to become a writer. This sort of tension between parents and students over liberal arts majors is a very real thing – there is a popular impression that liberal arts degrees aren’t cost-effective, and don’t lead to careers. Basically, some parents see such pursuits in college as a waste of money. This gets at a very old debate as to the purpose of college – is the institution there simply to provide career training, or does it have a broader, more generalist purpose for students to become more rounded? It is a debate that isn’t likely to have an end any time soon, and it echoes through personal relationships and political policy divides alike.

One of the many schemes that is hatched to earn Shaun a back-door admission to Stanford University is through a private meeting with a member of the university’s board of trustees. Another such scheme involved Shaun’s father “buying” him admission by making a large donation to the University. One similar situation occurred in real life, when The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wound up in hot water in 2009. The Chicago Tribune revealed that “some students with subpar academic records [were] being admitted after interference from state lawmakers and university trustees.” After an investigation, it was found that there were “acts and omissions of University officials across all levels of leadership [that] substantially contributed to admissions-related abuses and irregularities,” after which, the Board of Trustees of the University were asked to resign, and the President of the University voluntarily did so. The truth is, such practices are typically kept mum, but admissions corruption has seemingly been accepted as a part of life at higher ed institutions – people with connections, money, and status have an advantage when it comes to admissions. In that sense, Orange County appears to be a pretty (depressingly) accurate portrayal of the admissions process. The Stanford University student newspaper has even noted as such:

..some [Stanford University] applicants may have less cause for concern due to unique privileges gained from special connections with [Stanford]. According to former University admissions officers and college admissions experts, the difference made for those applicants—including legacies, children of faculty and development cases—may, in some cases, bridge the gap between acceptance and rejection.

Yet another admissions scheme hatched by Shaun and company is to directly compel Stanford’s  Dean of Admissions to personally review his application. From what I can tell, Admissions Deans do have a lot of power in the process of acceptance, but they are not a solo operation: Admissions offices require a good number of people to go through applications and make decisions. Even if Shaun made an excellent impression by invading the Dean’s personal abode in the middle of the night and drugging him, that’s not a guarantee of admission – if anything, that kind of back-channeling could be seen as an abuse of the Dean’s position. Then again, ethical concerns are already tossed out the window with this movie, so maybe that is totally in-bounds after all.

Early in the film, there is disturbing moment played for laughs. When Shaun discovers that his high school college counselor made an error in sending his test scores and transcripts to Stanford University, he violently attacks her. This got me curious – are there any documented cases of violence from rejected students towards high school counselors or college admissions officers?

I wasn’t able to find any cases like that, though there are a litany of articles out there that are aimed at helping rejected applicants deal with their feelings. Interestingly, I found one article from 2009 that covered the “cruelest and kindest rejection letters from colleges and universities,” which had the following to say about Stanford University in particular, which includes a quote from the Dean of Admissions:

Stanford University sends a steely “don’t call us” message embedded in its otherwise gentle rejection letter. In addition to asserting that “we are humbled by your talents and achievements” and assuring the applicant that he or she is “a fine student,” the letter says, “we are not able to consider appeals.”… It also discourages attempts to transfer later, an even more competitive process. One recipient, whose heart had long been set on Stanford, cried for hours, her mother says, after interpreting the letter as, “we never want to hear from you again so don’t bother.”

Stanford admissions dean Richard Shaw says the ban on appeals is necessary because other California universities allow appeals and families assume Stanford does too. Even after sending that firm message, Stanford, which has an admission rate of 7.6%, still gets about 200 attempted appeals. “We care deeply about the repercussions” of the letter, Mr. Shaw says, but “there’s no easy way to tell someone they didn’t make it.”

Going back to the impetus for the film – the error of sending the wrong student transcript to a college – I decided to look for some real examples of this sort of occurrence. From a Google search, there are plenty of forum posts out there that claim similar scenarios. Once such post on college confidential outlines a similar set of events as what happened in the movie (though they did apply and get accepted to a safety school, despite the error):

[The counselor] notified all the schools, but the admissions processes are already in motion, and I am afraid they will not consider me for scholarship money or even admission because of how screwed up my file is. I called all the schools, and while some them have replaced my incorrect transcripts with correct ones my guidance counselor sent, others are saying they will “figure out the error as they go.” I am really, really upset. This mistake has already made me receive a deferral from one of my top choices because of the credits that were missing.

In general, it sounds like most schools understand that clerical errors can and do happen, though some are less forgiving than others in such matters. Some institutions do have an appeals process to handle just such situations. However, as covered earlier, Stanford University is not one. No luck for Shaun there.

One of the most dramatic events in Orange County is the unintentional arson of the Stanford University admissions building (in real life, this appears to be Montag Hall). While I haven’t been able to find any records of an arson in Montag Hall, I did find some interesting points of history. In 1971, there was a firebombing at Tufts University of the office of a Dean, which was followed up by a bomb threat of the Admissions Office. In 2013, there was a fire set just outside of the doors of the admissions building at the College of Wooster. While neither of these instances were on the level of what was depicted in the film, this is as close as the official record seems to get.

Towards the end of the film, Shaun and company make the drive from Orange County to Stanford in what is said to be 3 hours. According to Google Maps, that is a roughly 400 mile, 7 hour drive. So, in order for the drive to take that long, the car would need to be travelling over twice the speed limit for the entire route with no traffic, which is far from realistic, particularly for I-5. Also, the vehicle they are in seems hardly able to handle 3 hours of 140+ mph driving.

At one point, Shaun is shown considering suicide due to his rejection from Stanford. As it, happens, I wrote at length about issues of suicide in higher education in my post on Dead Man On Campus. However, I didn’t look specifically at admissions rejections as a factor. As it so happens, I found a thread on this topic on College Confidential, but there were no verifiable instances of a suicide that directly attributed college rejection as the impetus. That is not to say that this has never happened, but I couldn’t find anything to verify this belief that seems to exist in the zeitgeist.

As I stated earlier, I really dislike this movie. However, there are some interesting higher ed issues that are brought up by the film, though they aren’t particularly criticized or illuminated by the story or the characters. Still, this isn’t a movie I recommend seeking out – if you are one of the people who remembers it fondly, I highly recommend not revisiting it.

Personally, I’m shocked Orange County wasn’t torn apart by critics more at the time – Shaun is maybe the most unintentionally unlikable character I have ever seen in a movie. Not only is he shown to be dismissively sexist and elitist through his PoV, but his entitlement to Stanford admission, constant condescension to his family and friends, and harassment/exploitation/abuse of anyone in his path makes him pretty much unforgivable. On top of that, he genuinely seems incapable of love or mourning throughout the events of the movie. At best, he has to be prompted into emulating these natural emotional processes. People, apparently, are merely means to his ends. Basically, Shaun is a monster, and represents just about everything people loathe about the institution of higher education.