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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Real Genius is a 1985 comedy in which Val Kilmer plays a college-aged math and science prodigy. It's less shockingly dated than other '80s comedies but it does still have some iffy moments. For instance, a college-age woman is shown wearing nothing but a nightgown as she leaves the bedroom of a much older professor. A young teen enters his dorm room to find an older woman, who attempts to have sex with him. There are frequent jokes about penises, sex, and masturbation, including a scene in which one of the lead characters poses as Jesus and commands one of the antagonists to "Stop touching yourself." There's an impromptu "tanning party" in which bikini-clad women from the nearby cosmetology school run around. Profanity includes "s--thole," "dips--t," "bastard," and "balls." Some underage drinking. For better or worse, it's a happy medium between Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds.
What's the story?
in REAL GENIUS, Mitch (Gabe Jarret) is a 15-year-old science prodigy who has been accepted into a prestigious university to study under the tutelage of the nationally known Professor Hathaway (William Atherton). Hathaway immediately ranks Mitch at the top of his group of gifted college-age students, much to the chagrin of some, but of no concern whatsoever to the former #1, the devil-may-care Chris Knight (Val Kilmer). Chris, on the verge of graduating, spends more time pulling pranks and throwing parties than he does studying, but still tries to help Mitch as he conducts his research on developing a powerful laser that can put giant holes in any large object, no matter its size or strength. Meanwhile, Mitch develops an attraction to self-described "hyperkinetic" Jordan, who also assists Mitch and Chris. As they contend with rival students, they must also contend with Professor Hathaway, who seems determined to prevent Chris from graduating as he also tries taking credit for Mitch, Chris, and Jordan's work. And when they realize what Hathaway intends to do with the laser, they must find a way to stop him.
Is it any good?
This movie is as '80s as parachute pants, Aqua-Netted manes, and keytars. It occupies a space somewhere between Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, but lacks the overall quality to be the "classic comedy" of the former and comes off as a somewhat more thoughtful (if not as funny) variation on the latter. There are some memorable scenes involving over-the-top pranks and one-liners that could only come out of an '80s movie, but there are already so many variations on the "crazy college hijinx and sexcapades" type of movie. Even the main characters, young out-of-place Mitch and wild and crazy Chris, seem like just a slight variation of Rudy and Tripper in Meatballs.
Still, there's enough depth to the characters to make these young prodigies more than the typical stereotype of smart kids as "nerds" who walk around in thick glasses and pocket protectors. And compared to so many other '80s comedies in which ethnic and sexual orientation stereotypes abound, as well as sexual situations that are downright creepy if not deserving of prison time, Real Genius avoids most of that (there is a scene in which an older woman does try to seduce the 15-year-old Mitch). It even communicates some worthwhile and relevant discussion about the struggles of young people who have remarkable talents.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about '80s comedies. How does Real Genius fit in with the style of other comedies from that time? Would the movie be different if it were made now? How so?
How are "gifted" students portrayed in the movie? How does the movie attempt to show the issues some bright teenagers face, even today?
Does the movie use stereotypes? If so, which ones?
Themes & Topics
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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.