Friday, December 25, 2009

The Chocolate War (1988)

Wonderful film about a Catholic all boys school that is forced, by its headmaster, to sell chocolates to make up for mismanaged funds. Ilan Mitchell Smith, from Weird Science, plays a kid named Renalt struggling for a QB position on the football team and who's mother has recently died. He refuses to sell the chocolates, creating a rift between the administration and the students, who are ostensibly led by an underground preppie group called the Vigils. The film explores the politics of this corrupt, hypocritical high school, where the dogma of Catholicism is barely present, but rather exists to keep the students docile and fearful. The competitive nature of the students is also very apt, as the schemers value their worth in results and the good guys compete with each other to be the most virtuous.

Performances are great all around, with Smith registering, again, as in The Wild Life and Weird Science, as a wonderful, if nondescript-looking young actor. Adam Baldwin and Doug Hutchison are terrific as high-ranking members of the Vigils, and Wally Ward is absolutely slime-drenched and despicable as their leader, Archie. Jenny Wright has a cameo as an infatuation of Renalts, but does not have enough screen time to be crucial to the plot.

The lack of a love story is one original aspect of the film, and another is the almost-exclusively male cast. Aside from visions of Renalts dead mother and Wright, there are no major women characters in the film, and the undiluted, but Catholically castrated masculinity that permeates the film is fascinating and highly entertaining. The presentation of high school as its own universe, with its own rules, ideals, and punishments and goals that do not begin to observe the outside world, is well-explored and atmospheric. The film succeeds in making you feel the stress that the characters undergo, as well as understanding the underlying tragedy that all their youthful pressures are superfluous and tenuous. But, of course, they don't know that.

Highly recommended. A little more intellectual and reflective than most high school movies, especially from the 80s; this ain't no John Hughes flick.

P.S. The Soundtrack has kickass tracks from Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and 2 from Yaz, including the pitch-perfect title song, In My Room. New Wavers take heed.

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