|even educated fleas do it|
“No, man, I disagree. Ethics are just like these arbitrary rules invented by the ruling class to preserve their power.” “Maybe dude, but does any of it really matter? I mean, like what if our whole reality is like a subatomic particle in a giant flea on the back of an enormous dog in a hyperuniverse, you know?” Do you remember hearing (or perhaps participating in) conversations like that, possibly with funny smelling smoke adrift in the room? No? Then you went to a different college than I. Sometimes the discussions were coherent and sometimes not, but they were commonplace. These memories were stirred by a movie to which I’ll get momentarily.
This March is the 20th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a campy show that consistently ranks on lists (by Rolling Stone, Time, Empire, etc.) of the best TV series ever made. I might or might not comment further on the show in March, but, in order to have that option, in January I began rewatching from the beginning. As Buffy lasted seven seasons and there are limits to my binge-watching patience, a couple months head start was necessary. It barely will be enough.
During the years of the show (1997-2003) despite the grueling shooting schedule, Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar somehow managed to accommodate roles in a few movies including the deliciously wicked Cruel Intentions and the airy romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. One I had missed at the time and in the years since was Harvard Man (2001). So, I decided to take a break from Sarah with…well…Sarah.
For those who are philosophically inclined at all, the college years are a time when we – with or without mind-altering chemicals – are most likely to pontificate with our friends about the meaning of existence and the origins and value of ethics. I certainly did. James Toback, a former Harvard man who wrote and directed Harvard Man, clearly did as well. It is hard not to suspect that the protagonist Alan (Adrian Grenier) is his alter ego, though almost surely one who is luckier in romantic matters unless James was a very fortunate young man indeed: Alan beds both his very womanly philosophy professor (Joey Lauren Adams) and winsome mafia daughter Cindy (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
Trouble begins when Alan’s parents need $100,000 after a tornado destroys their home. Cindy offers the money if Alan, who is point guard for the Harvard basketball team, throws the Dartmouth game. Various questions of morality, legality, and existence are tossed about, and not just in regard to Alan or this one act. Alan’s actions bring in the FBI who are trying to find a way to get to Cindy’s father. It doesn’t help that Alan is brought in for questioning while under the influence of a massive dose of LSD.
The script has weaknesses. Events develop in a very improbable fashion (not impossible but improbable), but it’s not really about the events. It’s about the assessment of them. If the viewer can make allowances for those improbabilities and for a little fantasy fulfillment by the filmmaker, there is enough humor, clever dialogue, and nostalgia for that what’s-it-all-about time of life for a Thumbs Up.