The TIFF Bell Lightbox’s upcoming summer programming special, gleefully entitled TOGA! The Reinvention of the American Comedy, is set to begin tomorrow (Wednesday July 17), so you had better prepare your gut for a serious workout.
Screening more contemporary, yet already seminal American comedies like There’s Something About Mary (Tuesday, August 20th, 9:00pm), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Thursday, August 22nd, 9:00pm), and Bridesmaids (Thursday, August 29th, 9:00pm), the younger folks more familiarized with these recent, big-laugh comedies already know that hilarity is about to ensue.
But like any great homage, TIFF has taken the high – or rather, low down dirty road, as it were – by prefacing these semen and fecal-joke heavy films by bringing throw backs like Caddyshack (Sunday, July 21st, 6:00pm) and The Blues Brothers (Saturday, July 20th, 8:00pm, with an introduction from director John Landis) into the mix. By taking this back to basics approach, audiences are getting an all-encompassing view of the genre: a delectable, salty-sweet taste of the golden age of the naughty American comedy.
But just as there are retro films featured in the line up that maintain insurmountable notoriety (particularly a high profile screening of Animal House on Thursday, July 18th that’s preceded at 7pm by a cast and crew reunion of sorts featuring producer Ivan Reitman and director John Landis), others like Revenge of the Nerds, Up in Smoke and Meatballs remain hidden under the big, boisterous American comedy rug comprised of cheap imitations and overplayed plot lines. Running until August 29th, this list is meant to shed some much needed light on these less mentioned, but vastly influential classics featured in TIFF’s TOGA! programme.
Revenge of the Nerds (Friday, August 9th, 9:00pm)
First hitting screens in 1984, Revenge of the Nerds continues to exists an endearing 1980’s college campus comedy about a group of outcasts pushed so far past their dorky limits of passivity that they decide to gloriously retaliate against their muscle bound aggressors with witty and far more entertaining pranks. For those born in the post-New Wave era, Revenge of the Nerds symbolizes something more poignant than just being the movie starring a pimply faced, burgeoning performance by Lizzie McGuire’s dad.
Only a year ago, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street (scripted by raucous comedy progenitor Michael Baccall) placed two rough and tumble cops at polar ends of the young adult social hierarchy. Seeing these more contemporary characters, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), thrown into nerdom and the ever-present high school socialite celebrity status may strive for, 21 Jump Street was just one of the more recent films to cleverly expand on a modern model of what director Jeff Kanew’s Nerds championed many decades prior.
With their pants practically hiked up to their chins, sporting pocket protectors and coke bottle thick glasses, Revenge of the Nerds follows best buds Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) as they eagerly head off to college, only to find themselves quickly herded into a group of similarly bright, yet socially awkward rejects. Persecuted and provoked by the football crazed meatheads of the Alpha Beta fraternity and their jock godfather Coach Harris (John Goodman), Skolnick and Lowe form their own frat and lead a band of rebellious nerds on a journey to conquering the campus and losing their virginities all in their undergrad year.
Still an unabashed product of band of misfit/frat party films like Animal House, there’s no denying that Revenge of the Nerds takes its own distinct direction with its early embodiment of the “come as you are” message. Although using 80s production staples like the fromage saturated “getting work done” montage, Revenge of the Nerds is amongst the first waves of films to promote alternative, post-secondary personalities that are distinctly and proudly ‘un-cool’.
Unlike contemporary films like Accepted and Old School (Thursday, August 15th, 9:00pm), or TV shows like Community that feature a few redeemable and generally cool characters, Revenge of the Nerds brings together the undesirables who were and continue to be ostracized in nearly every post-secondary environment. Displaying a glorious contrast between the booze-fuelled, primate orgy that the jocks carry out and the jovial nerd love fest elicited by nerd frat member Booger’s (Curtis Armstrong) several large joints, it’s a wonder why Revenge of the Nerds hasn’t been presented in court as case in point for legalization of weed.
Cheech and Chong: Up in Smoke (Friday, August 2nd, 9:30pm)
Mac & Devon Go to High School, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle are just a few examples of the plethora of modern day stoner comedies you can find on Netflix. That being said, if the late 60s and early 70s were the burgeoning years of stoner oriented entertainment, then the age we’re living can be called a perpetual, stoner-polluza on the silver screen. For these reasons, the names Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, the undisputed OG grandmasters of stoner entertainment and comedy, are names that most 90’s babies have pushed under their beds along with their porn mags, bongs and their respective stash.
Directed by Lou Adler, record producer and owner of LA’s infamous Roxy theatre, and the sultan of sess himself Tommy Chong, Up in Smoke is a sensational situational comedy that places Cheech, Chong into circumstances certified to be every stoned bird’s worst nightmare. Kicked out of his house, Anthony ‘Man’ Stoner (Tommy Chong) and Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin) cross paths and unknowingly join forces over, you guessed it, a joint. As Up in Smoke unravels, so do the minds of these two loveable stoners who are constantly on the search for hot chicks, cold beers and California’s “good smoke.”
One of the reasons that Up in Smoke maintains such a classic aesthetic is because of the covert and highly entertaining message it sports. Coming into contact with all different types of drugs (uppers, downers, LSD and even Ajax disguised as lines of cocaine), Cheech and Chong’s high time shenanigans more or less amount to them demonstrating how harmless weed is in comparison. Often on the run from the ultra-conservative, hippy hating police, this film written by Chong and Marin set the foundation for many of the most successful stoner films produced to date.
With films like How High showing how directors and writers have continually reused and adapted Up in Smoke’s stoner buddy template, there’s no telling how high directors of the present and future will continue to take Cheech and Marin’s superbly stoned ideas.
Meatballs (Friday, July 19th, 6:30pm, with introduction from director Ivan Reitman)
Filmed at Camp White Pine in Haliburton, Ontario, Ivan Reitman’s 1979 production Meatballs is fitting with most assumed Canadian sensibilities. It’s undoubtedly one of the most wholesome films of TIFF’s TOGA! programme. Never the less, it continues to be adored because of its quintessential value in the American teen-sex comedy ethos. It’s early address of the tropes that became common place topics and the essential meat for later camp comedies like Wet Hot American Summer (Saturday, August 17th, 10:00pm) that cements Meatballs importance as being far more than just Bill Murray’s first major motion picture role.
Beginning bright and early on the first day of camp, Meatballs is all about the humour, obstacles and pleasures of the overnight camp experience. We follow the story of head counsellor Tripper (Bill Murray) as he leads young and old campers alike in a summer of wacky fun and unforgettable memories. It’s Tripper’s upbeat and consistently wacky attitude that spurns on these kids of all ages, while he comically courts his counsellor of choice Roxanne (Kate Lynch).
This may sound like any typical camp film tagline, but that’s because anyone who has attended or worked at a summer camp will be the first to tell you that even 40 years later, Meatballs is indeed an enjoyable portrayal of the warm nostalgia garnered by the overnight experience.
But it’s impossible to downplay Bill Murray’s role here. Although housing an impressive roster of convincing young actors, Murray is undoubtedly the shining star of Meatballs. There’s no doubt that Murray’s loveable, real life persona shone through in his playfully tactful direction as head counsellor and chief meatball. Seeing as Reitman actually had no idea if Murray would sign on for filming until the first day of production, for all of its naiveté, Meatballs exists as a miracle picture because it gathered all the right elements at the perfect time.
Similarly to the juxtaposition of adolescent and youngster values that became the calling cards for shows like Freaks and Geeks and That 70’s Show, Meatballs does an impressive job at intertwining the concerns of Camp North Star’s teens and kids alike. In comparison to the horny teenager films that Roger Ebert boxes Porky’s into, Meatballs is incredibly tame and definitely can be considered family friendly programming. Amazingly, the influence of this production that launched Reitman and Murray’s cinematic career is still undeniably evident in many films of the naughty American comedy ethos that followed.
TOGA! runs from Wednesday, July 17th through Thursday, August 29th. For more information, a full list of films and to purchase tickets, head on over to tiff.net.