Plot: Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) came from a humble background, he never even received a proper education, but he became a success in business. His Tall and Fat stores have been a financial boon and his likable persona endears him to those around him, customers or not. But his life isn’t paradise, his wife is cheating on him and he misses his son, who is off at college. When Thornton decides enough is enough with his unfaithful spouse, he surmises that the time for a change is now, so he heads off to join his son at Grand Lakes University. Of course, the dead is hesitant to allow a sixty year old man entrance as a freshman, but a generous donation resolves any doubts. At first, his son Jason is reluctant to accept his father’s presence, but the two soon begin to have a great time, even as Thornton becomes the campus’ most popular student. But will Thornton’s wild ways cost him and his son an education, or will Thornton prove he belongs?
Entertainment Value: As a big fan of both Rodney Dangerfield and 80s comedies, Back to School is like a dream come true, as it has Dangerfield in the lead and a flood of 80s vibes to go around. The Triple Lindy would of course make the movie immortal, but that is one of the reasons Back to School is so much fun, not to mention the deep, colorful cast and outlandish sense of humor. Dangerfield has his usual humor on showcase, which the movie keeps razor sharp with snappy scenes and a brisk pace, allowing him to glide from scene to scene with ease. The dialogue here is quotable and immense fun, from Rodney’s one liners to Kinison’s howling to the various exchanges, often centered on Dangerfield and how people react to his antics. I also love how the tone is so odd, with an absurd lean and some outlandish spikes, not to mention the ample 80s vibes, making Back to School an easy comedy classic from the decade. This is a colorful, super fun movie that holds up and has extensive replay value to boot. So for fans of Dangerfield and 80s comedies in general, this one is a must.
While Back to School is centered on Rodney Dangerfield and his usual brand of one liners and comebacks, I think the movie uses his skills so well and lets him shine, while also fleshing out the film around him. This ensures that his fans are given ample chances to see Dangerfield work his comedic magic, but he is showcased wisely, which means shifting focus at time and giving him plenty of talented costars to bounce material back and forth with. So while being a fan of his humor will make the movie much more fun, I think it is balanced enough that it isn’t required, though if you simply dislike his style, then you likely won’t have much fun here. But to me, this is one of his best movies and he really goes for it as Thornton, rattling off hilarious and pointed barbs, cutting loose, and giving us his “snobs vs. slobs” routine to near perfection. While he is the star, Dangerfield is given some fantastic costars to work with and that is one reason the movie works so well, a deep and colorful supporting ensemble. The cast also includes M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Keith Gordon, Ned Beatty, Sally Kellerman, William Zabka, and of course, Sam Kinison.