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Back to School
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Back to School is a 1986 comedy starring Rodney Dangerfield as a successful businessman who decides to attend the college his son attends to finally get his degree. There is brief nudity (bare breasts), frequent profanity (including "f--k" and "p---y"), and plentiful sexual innuendos in Dangerfield's frequent and hilarious quips. In one scene, a history professor refers to Asians as "rice eaters," and, in another scene, Dangerfield makes a joke involving homosexual rape. As an '80s college movie, there are the requisite scenes of blowout parties with binge drinking. Still, for teens and those older, Back to School is a classic of its genre -- a movie in which Dangerfield's pitch-perfect one-liners shine in every scene.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a self-made multimillionaire who owns a chain of "Tall and Fat" stores throughout the country. He goes to visit his son Jason -- whom he believes has joined a fraternity and is on the diving team -- only to find out when he gets there that Jason wants to drop out of school. Determined to prove to his son that "you can be who you want to be," Melon decides to go back to college and earn the degree he never received when he was younger. Melon's antics endear him to most of the students and professors, and he even finds a potential love interest in his English professor (Sally Kellerman). But when he fully embraces the collegiate party lifestyle and delegates the writing of his papers to employees, Melon is threatened with expulsion and must actually get the education he signed on for and prove to everyone that he has what it takes to stay in college.
Is it any good?
In many respects, this thoroughly enjoyable comedy is a classic of its genre, the 1980s collegiate party movie. It's replete with blowout parties, bikini-clad women, and the eternal struggle between jock bullies and misfits. But what clearly separates Back to School from so many movies of this type from that time is Rodney Dangerfield, who uses this vehicle to do what he does best: make a constant barrage of jokes, quips, and one-liners. He's basically playing his stand-up comedy persona, and so many of his jokes are truly unforgettable, which makes this such a fun movie to watch, time and time again.
Although the overall story is as dated as Robert Downey Jr.'s "New Wave" haircut -- to say nothing of the sexism, racism, and homophobia that surface on occasion -- when it's funny, Back to School is truly hilarious. Dangerfield's execution of the "Triple Lindy" dive for the college's diving team stands as one of the all-time great comedic moments in cinematic history. Overall, Back to School is still a funny movie that has held up remarkably well.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about '80s movies set in colleges. Why do you think this was such a popular genre during that decade?
What aspects of the movie seem dated to you? Do the dated aspects make this film more or less enjoyable? If you could remake the movie, who would you cast in the roles?
Could the story of the movie alone sustain interest, or is the entertainment value primarily from Rodney Dangerfield's constant quips and one-liners?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.