Dated humor and iffy content in '80s teen comedy.
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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 Summer School is a 1987 comedy in which Mark Harmon plays Shoop, a PE teacher who has to spend the summer teaching remedial English to a class of misfits. If you loved it in the '80s, know that it hasn't aged all that well. Shoop makes deals with his students: If they put in the effort to learn, he agrees to throw a big party at his house. He also takes the students on a field trip to the beach at the behest of the two "class clowns," who are looking for an opportunity to see the attractive Italian foreign exchange student in a bikini. During the big party, a student enters Shoop's bedroom and asks if he's ever had sex with one of his students. Shoop promptly leaves the room, but he later allows the girl to stay at his apartment until she can find another place to live, and in one scene, she cooks a large dinner and acts like she's his wife. The two class clowns seem to have a drinking problem -- Shoop tells one of them that he can smell the booze on his breath, and at one point the teens brag that they've been sober for two days. Language throughout includes "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "d--kbrain," "damn," "hell," "jism brain," and "dildo," as well as gestures for intercourse and oral sex. Characters use horror movie special effects to make it look like their faces have been clawed off on one side and to suggest that a chainsaw massacre happened to students. In terms of positives, for an '80s teen comedy, there's at least some attempt to get past easy jokes by showing how the students slipped through the cracks of the school system -- one student has dyslexia, and Shoop encourages her to work with a specialist. Another student is pregnant, another works nights (which is why he's always asleep in class), and another has trouble staying focused.
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What's the Story?
In SUMMER SCHOOL Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is a goofy PE teacher at Oceanfront High School. It's the last day of school, and Shoop is counting down the minutes until the final bell rings and he can leave with his girlfriend for Hawaii. But when the summer school teacher wins a small fortune from a lottery scratch-off ticket and abruptly quits, Vice Principal Gills stops Shoop in the parking lot and tells him that if he wants to get tenure, he's going to have to stay and teach remedial English for the summer. Soon, Shoop finds himself trying to teach a class of misfits and jokers who know every trick in the book to get out of learning. Lacking actual teaching experience, Shoop enlists the assistance of Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley), an experienced history teacher who Shoop is instantly attracted to. Shoop tries to make deals with his students, including throwing a 4th of July party at his house, in exchange for learning; he also offers to attend Lamaze classes with a pregnant student, help a football player with his tackling, and even takes the fall when he roller-skates past two of his students who have just been caught drinking on the boardwalk by the police. To his surprise, Shoop finds that he has really taken a liking and interest in his students, and wants to help them succeed in and out of the classroom. But when Gills, tired of Shoop's questionable teaching methods and cocky attitude, tells Shoop that the students must pass their skills test at the end of the term or he will be fired, Shoop realizes that he must, on the advice of Robin, find a way to make learning fun while ensuring that learning is taking place.
Is It Any Good?
It's another '80s comedy that the teens of the '80s who are now parents of the 21st century are likely to be shocked and appalled by the dated and iffy content. Summer School is filled with cringe-worthy moments of interactions between adults and teens (and adults and adults) that wouldn't fly today (assuming they even did then), and yet, for all of these moments, it's not without entertainment value in its depiction of a different time. Underneath all the gags there's at least some attempt not to "punch down," unlike so many other '80s comedies. Yes, there are certainly some stereotypes, such as the character of the "foreign exchange student from Milan" who seems to exist only as someone for boys to ogle and try to flirt with, but there are also attempts to address realities like teen pregnancy, students who work nights while trying to stay awake during school hours, and less-than-ideal family living situations. Granted, there are plenty of movies that came out during or after Summer School that address these issues with more depth and nuance, but for an '80s comedy, such effort is noteworthy.
That said, these moments aren't enough to overcome the dated humor and moments like the party scenes at Shoop's house where a 16-year-old girl (played by Courtney Thorne-Smith) enters Shoop's bedroom and asks if he's ever had sex with his students. Or the "class clowns" who seem to be sneaking booze all the time who later brag that they've been sober for two days in a row. It has some kitsch value and nostalgia appeal, and isn't quite as jarring as other comedies from that time viewed through the prism of the 21st century, but there's still a lot that hasn't aged well.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about '80s comedies like Summer School. How does this compare to other '80s comedies in terms of character types, humor, story?
How do you think the movie would be different if it was released today?
Like many '80s movies, this has quite a bit of iffy content that's likely to be shocking to parents who were children of the '80s watching it now. How does the movie try to address more serious topics like learning disabilities and teen pregnancy? Does it work? Why or why not?
- In theaters: July 22, 1987
- On DVD or streaming: September 26, 2017
- Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Courtney Thorne-Smith
- Director: Carl Reiner
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: High School
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Last updated: December 22, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
A dated rebellion tale.
A realistic look at a teen's coming-of-age.
'80s college comedy with some sex jokes, cursing.
For kids who love the '80s
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