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Thornton Melon's got it good: he has an extremely successful line of "Tall & Fat" men's clothing stores that he built up from a small New York clothier shop, and a beloved son who's off making grades, making friends and earning victories for his diving team at college. Thornton's also married to a shrewish, unfaithful wife who- *Whirrp!* wait, never mind that last part.
Newly divorced from his shrewish, unfaithful wife, Thornton decides to head off to the university to visit his son, Jason. Once he gets there, Jason has to spill the beans on how college life is working out: he lied about the grades, the friends and the diving team and he's about to drop out. Thornton can't quite convince him not to, seeing how he never went to school and things turned out fine.
With that, Thornton decides -what the hell- he's enrolling too! He gets in good with the Dean by addressing all of his concerns with a big, fat donation, and before long becomes the #1 party animal on campus. Just a few things stand to ruin Thornton's fun, though: a stuffy economics professor who doesn't appreciate Thornton buying his way through school, and a son who's beginning to develop the same gripe. Fortunately, Thornton also falls for a beautiful and very intelligent Poetry professor who sees that he can excel in his studies if he makes a real effort at it, but will he?
While perhaps not as well-known as Caddyshack, Back to School is one of Rodney Dangerfield's funniest films and is definitely worth checking out for any fan of 80's comedy or the man himself.
- Back to School: Dur-hey.
- Badass: Lou. He beat up the entire football team after crushing a metal napkin holder with his bare hands.
- Blatant Lies: "Is the work you turned in your own?" "Dean Martin, I can't lie to ya...*Beat* Yes it is."
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Billy Zabka's at it again, this time he's playing a Jerk Jock named Chas.
- But Not Too Foreign: Nothing is really made of it, but the flashback at the beginning reveals that Thornton's given surname was Meloni, and he changed it somewhere along the way.
- The Cameo: Kurt Vonnegut appears as himself to write Thornton's essay on Kurt Vonnegut. It gets Thornton an F.
- Danny Elfman's band Oingo Boingo shows up at Thornton's kickass dorm party.
- Cover Version: "Twist and Shout" plays in the film, and it's sung by someone other than The Beatles (while they didn't create the song, their rendition was arguably the most famous).
- Deadpan Snarker: Watching Dangerfield and Downey on the same screen is like watching Master and Protege.
- Death of the Author: Thornton commissions Kurt Vonnegut to write an interpretation of Slaughterhouse Five for a literature class. When Dangerfield turns it in, the professor says he doesn't know the first thing about Vonnegut.
- Dumb Is Good: The film has a strong Anti-Intellectual bend, arguing that experience trumps brilliance (which is what real Anti-Intellectualism is). Thornton is a lovable slob who is successful because he's worked hard and had real-world experience. His opponent is a petty, overly-intellectual educator who teaches how to run a business but has never run one himself. This can be seen in Kurt Vonnegut's paper about Kurt Vonnegut receiving an F. Although Thornton's whole motivation for returning to school is to prevent his son from dropping out, it's more about not giving up than receiving an education.
- "Listen, Jason: it doesn't matter how successful a man is, without an education, he's nothin'!" While the movie does poke a lot of fun at the "ivory tower" mentality, it's worth noting that Thorn only passes (barely, at that) because he finally knuckled down and started taking his education seriously.
- Fanservice Extra: When Rodney accidentally walks in on actress Leslie Huntly in the middle of her Shower Scene. Dangerfield and "Coed #1" have a brief Shower of Awkward played purely for Fan Service.
- Rodney gets in a good joke, too: "Take it easy, honey! I didn't see a thing!" *throws open shower curtain and stares bug-eyed at her* "You're perfect!"
- Precision F-Strike: Thornton tells Kurt Vonnegut to go fuck himself.
- Punny Name: The Dean's last name is Martin; this cracks Thornton up to no end.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Thornton hires Kurt Vonnegut to write His Essay for Him.The professor later claims that whoever wrote it knew nothing about Vonnegut.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Jason doesn't subscribe to his dad's approach to higher learning, and becomes very upset when Thorn gets his underlings to do his homework, too.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Thornton gets into school by buying the campus a new building, and his attitude towards his academic workload is to just hire someone else to do it.
- Self-Deprecation: Mostly averted, believe it or not. Rodney Dangerfield actually avoids using his signature shtick throughout the movie.
- There is one notable instance of it, though:
Thorn: "The shape I'm in, you could donate my body to science fiction."
- Shout-Out: The opening montage shows Rodney playing golf in his Al Czervik getup.
- Stealth Pun: "Why don't you call me some time when you have no class?"
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Jason is quite a few inches shorter than his squeeze, Valerie.
- Uncle Pennybags: Thorn is a fine example. Even though he's buying his way through school, he's really cool about it. At one point, he gives a campus officer a couple of thousand bucks to help put his kids through school; when the officer tells him he doesn't have children, Thorn shrugs and gives him more money to get himself some kids.
- Villains Never Lie: Chas tells Jason that his dad bribed the coach to get him on the diving team, and Jason believes it immediately. To Jason, it sounds enough like something his dad might do, but you'd think hearing it from the one guy in school that you know hates your guts might send up a red flag or two.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: The drunk student.
- You Fail Economics Forever: Thornton shows that his econ teacher might understand the theory behind economics better than he does, but he knows next to nothing about how to actually run a business.
- Your Costume Needs Work: "I don't know who wrote this essay, but he obviously doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut."
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Based on a real instance where Vonnegut helped his nephew on an essay which earned the kid a D.