James Toback’s newest film, Harvard Man
, is another “what the fuck?” movie. Like all of his films, it seems like he’s making it up as he goes along. Remember Black and White
, one of the best films of 2000? It pretended to question why rich white kids identify with black lifestyles and want to be black themselves when really this question is answered during its first 30 minutes when Bijou Phillips says, ``I'm a little kid. Kids go through phases. When I grow up, I'll be over it. I'm a kid from America.'' Then the flick spends an hour and a half rambling on and on, incoherently, about a whole lotta nothing. Or a whole lotta something. Or bits and pieces of something, with a whole lotta something in between. Like some Ornette Coleman playing the saxophone. Well. this Harvard Man
, it takes this a step further. It doesn’t even pretend to be about anything.
Sure, there’s a plot here. Check out how absurd it is. The great, great, great Adrian Grenier (who was the only thing great about the otherwise mediocre Adventures of Sebastian Cole
and who was even greater in the most underrated, most sweet, and most thematically interesting of all the recent teeny flicks, Drive Me Crazy
and who is slated to appear as Tom Ripley in Ripley Under Ground
later this year and after that will probably be rich and famous and go on to star in silly Hollywood slop for the rest of his life) plays a Harvard philosophy major who is also a point guard for the basketball team. He consumes copious amount of drugs, talks a bunch of pretentious philosophical bunk and has a whole lot of sex with both Sarah Michelle Gellar (playing a cheerleader for the basketball team and mob boss’s daughter in a role that is equal parts Buffy and Cruel Intentions
) and Joey Lauren Adams (who is just so, one would think, miscast as a 29 year old Harvard philosophy professor, but who pulls the role off with aplomb). Back in Ohio or Idaho or wherever, there’s a tornado and Grenier’s parents’ house is blown away. They need $100,000 to build another one. Grenier goes to Gellar’s father, who agrees to give him the $100,000 is he’ll agree to throw the Harvard/Yale match that is coming up. Two FBI agents, Eric Stoltz and Rebecca Gayheart, are on to this little plot and try to convince Grenier to turn witness against Gellar’s father. For some reason, in the middle of all this Grenier decides to drop an unreal amount of acid. And did I mention that the two FBI agents have been known to engage in threesomes with Joey Lauren Adams?
What’s it all amount to? Nothing at all. And I don’t think it means to. Or maybe it does. Whatever. Sure, there’s a whole lot of Nietzsche and shit spouted, but none of it has anything to do with anything. This will likely infuriate a lot of people, but not I. The whole thing is just so damned entertaining, watching the film ramble on and on with no rhyme or reason. I love it.
Also infuriating are all these stylistic ticks that Toback uses here. The opening credits montage with it’s split screens, sometimes 5 at a time, went on and on forever, and it’s more aggravating than anything else (maybe because in one of those screens is a pretty explicit anal sex scene between Grenier and Gellar that we’re distracted from). There’s another loooong sequence where Grenier and Ray Allen walk down the street musing philosophically about the meaning of basketball. This sequence is filled with more jump cuts than should be allowed by law. And for no reason. Then there’s the whole acid sequence, which is cool at first in its simplicity. Basically, all Toback does is twist up people’s faces like we’re looking at them in a funhouse mirror. (Wait ‘til you see Al Franken.) But after 30 minutes of this, your eyes start to hurt.
Sounds bad, I know, but it’s really not. Its torture is great fun. (Tell me you didn’t get downright exasperated by certain segments of Weekend
, but you came out loving it at the end, didn’t you?) And the flick is just so funny. Watch Grenier’s various escapes from the clutches of the FBI. Look at the way the whole scenario resolves itself and tell me its mundanity doesn’t make you laugh. And again, there’s this whole audacity thing. Guerilla filmmaking. Renegade cinema. Whatever you want to call it. It’s just fun to watch. That it does or does not amount to much of anything at all is besides the point.