Back to School (1986)


Back to School is a 1986 comedy film starring Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, William Zabka, Sam Kinison, and Robert Downey, Jr.. It was directed by Alan Metter. The plot centers on a wealthy but uneducated father (Dangerfield) who goes to college to show solidarity with his discouraged son (Gordon) and learns that he cannot buy an education or happiness. Author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has a cameo as himself, as does the band Oingo Boingo, whose frontman Danny Elfman composed the score for the film. The University of Wisconsin–Madison was used as a backdrop for the movie, although it was called "Grand Lakes University." The diving scenes were filmed at the since-demolished Industry Hills Aquatic Center (see Industry Hills Aquatic Club) in the City of Industry, California.


Thornton Melon is a truly successful rags-to-riches story. The son of an Italian immigrant tailor, he is shown as a boy in his father's shop, bearing a report card with less than stellar grades. His ambition is to work in the shop, but his father tells him "if a man's got no education, he's got nothing." Thornton is shown opening his first "Tall and Fat" clothing store and eventually becoming a corporate giant, complete with a TV commercial in which he asks: "Are you fat? Do you look at a menu and say, 'Okay'? When you go jogging, do you leave potholes?" He also has changed his last name to "Melon" (from the original "Meloni"). After his college-student son Jason cancels a visit, Thornton goes home to Vanessa, his second wife. Thornton is a widower and Vanessa is a money-hungry, aspiring socialite, unable to bear her crude husband. He threatens to expose her adulterous affairs after she threatens to sue him for divorce. Thornton tells his friend, chauffeur and bodyguard Lou to drive him to Jason's college. It turns out Jason has been keeping secrets from his father. He is not on the Grand Lakes diving team but instead works as a towel boy, treated badly by star diver Chas Osborn. Jason has only his best friend Derek for support and intends to drop out. Thornton pleads with him, offering to go to college with his son if he'll stay. Possessing neither a high school diploma nor any transcripts or SAT scores, Thornton's efforts seem to be stalled. But when the university's "Dean" Martin -– a play on Dean Martin -– asks how he can possibly admit an unqualified student, the next scene cuts to a groundbreaking of the university's new Thornton Melon School of Business. Thornton's bribery earns him the wrath of Dr. Philip Barbay, dean of the business school. Thornton promptly strikes up a romance with Dr. Diane Turner, an attractive professor who is dating Dr. Barbay. At the same time, Jason begins to attract the interest of Valerie Desmond, a girl his rival Chas has been trying to impress. Jason's popularity on campus also increases thanks to his father's generosity and party-throwing. Jason even earns a spot on the diving team as well after Thornton -- who claims to have once been a spectacular diver himself -- talks the Grand Lakes coach into giving the kid another look. As a student, Thornton prefers partying to studying. He hires a team of professionals to complete his assignments, including author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.. Thornton's fraud is exposed by Dr. Barbay, who challenges him before Dean Martin to pass an oral examination from all of his professors. If Thornton fails any part of it, he will be expelled. With limited time to prepare, Thornton crams for exams with help from Jason, Derek, Lou and Diane. When the big day comes, Barbay begins by telling Thornton that he has only one question ... "in 27 parts." Thornton passes, nevertheless, after Dr. Turner inspires him with Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night". At the championship swim meet, a little distraction from Derek fouls up the opposing team's dives. Chas gives a lackluster dive, followed by a near-perfect performance from Jason. Chas fakes a cramp out of spite in an effort to make the team lose. This gives the coach an inspiration. He calls upon Thornton, who comes out of the grandstand to perform an "impossible" dive, the legendary "Triple Lindy," to win the meet. Thornton learns that he has passed all his classes with a D, except from Diane, who has given him an A. The movie closes with Thornton lecturing the graduating class that the real world is hard, so: "Move back in with your parents... let them worry about it!"