The Freshman - 1990
Written and Directed by Andrew Bergman, released July 27, 1990
This tale steals more than just a little bit from the 1972 Godfather film, which is not unlike the actions of the character played in The Freshman by Bruno Kirby, who, in the space of just a few minutes, expertly robs the young Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick), just arrived from Vermont to attend a New York City film school (run by the wildly egomaniac professor Arthur Fleeber, played by Paul Benedict).
"I had been in New York for exactly eight minutes and I was already ruined," laments Kellogg, watching in frustration as Kirby drives away with all of his money and belongings in the trunk of his freelance-taxi.
The resulting story not only lampoons film art, film study, mobster movies and more, but also sets up Marlon Brando (as mob 'father' Carmine Sabatini) to lampoon himself and his Godfather character, Don Vito Corleone.
Son of the Mob
The finest element and principal focus of the film is Clark Kellogg's journey of confusion and unwilling indoctrination into an Italian Mafioso family, his role in engineering a mammoth endangered-species-restaurant scam, and the scope of Kellogg's ethical, legal and emotional dilemma growing exponentially no matter how he protests or tries to find an explanation for the bizarre turn of events now dominating his life.
Kellogg insists to his new employer (Sabatini) that he won't be involved in anything illegal, and Sabatini keeps assuring him everything is perfectly legal as Kellogg finds himself getting in deeper, being chased by agents from an indeterminate federal agency. (The mob family tells him everything will be okay because they're getting him a gun permit and gun to defend himself.)
Kellogg hardly has time to worry about this turn of events as he finds himself inexplicably engaged to marry the mob daughter (Penelope Ann Miller) and he doesn't know how or when it happened. Broderick's portrayal of the naive Kellogg is somewhat like Henry Fonda's portrayal of the equally naive 'Hopsy' Pike in Sturges' The Lady Eve. Both Kellogg and Pike are innocents confronted by women who know a lot more than they're willing to say.
Marlon Brando, Maximilian Schell and Bert Parks get to play their roles rather broadly (to say the least) but Matthew Broderick and Penelope Ann Miller keep a mostly straight face as they work their way through Bergman's funny script.
This film had a mixed critical response to it's original release. Seeing Brando make fun of his Corleone character wasn't exactly greeted with affection in some filmic quarters, where Godfather (and Brando) are treated as a holy objects telling deep truths about America (this is both praised and made of fun of in the course of The Freshman* where many scenes take place in Kellog's film classes. These classes let us overhear serious film critical analysis under the direction of the possibly crazy Professor Fleeber.).
The main flaw in the film is that Bergman's script tries to make sense of the wild story by the time the credits roll, which feels like an unwelcome shortcut, akin to a character waking up at the end of a story and saying, "Oh, it was all a dream!" Bergman makes his characters so passionate, strange and loveable, that the viewer doesn't really want them to suddenly become 'normal actors' at the end, expressing that they 'really didn't mean it.' Farce is better when served straight.
[*The film title is a reference to Harold Lloyd's 1925 silent comedy epic The Freshman, and the strategically placed poster of Buster Keaton in Clark Kellogg's dorm room isn't an accident, as the film is nicely flavored by the silent film comedies of a totally different era.]
Original Page November 2015 | Updated Dec 2015 +
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