National Lampoon's Van Wilder

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 04/02/02 10:06:02

"Ferris Bueller, Move Over."
3 stars (Average)

A generation that deferred to Ferris as their all around IT guy can now retire and let Matthew Broderick be known for his phenomonal Broadway run in The Producers. Ryan Reynolds plays Van Wilder, a Bueller in college who escapes into his charmed life on campus to avoid dealing with “what happens after Graduation”. The Film picks up the National Lampoon banner and carries it boldly, brashly, unapologetically, into the future. Also starring Tara Reid as a student journalist shaping her destiny in a feminist version of a traditional hetero romance. She’s not after the guy, she’s after the story, and ends up, as in all good comedies, with the right guy.

We love Tara Reid. She’s cute as a button, blonde and blue eyed with a raspy, whispy bedroom voice and hand sized tits. She plays Gwen Pearson (who is referred to throughout the film as Gwennie, much like another well known blonde), intrepid journalist who is assigned to cover Van Wilder as a human interest piece.

Reid is not only working on her acting career, behind the scenes, she is executive producing several independent films and loves being involved in the business side of “the business”. While working on Van Wilder, she was also shooting American Pie 2, the upcoming The Guest and doing press for another film while showing up on time every day and not taking a single day off. While its fun to think of her as “Tara Reid, The Adolescent Fantasy Party Girl”, she’s a hard-working actress who refuses to rest on her accomplishments and will always be, as she says, “young and hungry”. “I was impressed”, said director, Walt Becker. “She’s a trooper.”

Gwen is shocked to learn that this Van Wilder is not just a irrepressible campus cad but has a humanitarian agenda and his reluctance to leave school is all about his fear of having to live in the same Wall Street world as his father. Wilder (Bueller) doesn’t seem to worry about taking that money from his dad as much as he is having to earn it in the same way.

The added depth and intelligence is what really won me over this film. “Film is about escape. Its good to get out of your headspace and just laugh”, Reid said. But the extra attention to show the characters motivations and to paint Wilder as caring and sympathetic with an idioscyncratic way of expressing that, Gwen as a person who is taking charge of her sexuality and her life and we see some important growth in her and Taj, who also finds his identity and personal strengths, pays off in the end.

Director Walt Becker wasn’t interested in directing another college sex comedy but after rereading it, he saw that the script had “heart” and reminded him of his favorite movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. “It’s a weird analogy, I know but the script had a real emotional core that I didn’t see in the other [college sex comedies]”

This is Becker and Reynolds second film … period. They worked together on Buying The Cow. While reading the script for Van Wilder, Becker could see Reynolds all over the script and the legend will read, “he got his guy”. “Having the right person is crucial to making a film like this work.” Artisan paraded a few of the “hunks du jour”, like Ryan Phillipe, in front of Becker to hedge their bets in a fickle marketplace where it is getting increasingly difficult to find funding and shrinking budgets are the norm. “Nobody knew how Ryan was, but it didn’t matter, we sold [the distribution rights] everywhere we showed it.”
Kal Penn plays Taj Maal Badalandabad. He was initially reluctant to play a character that relied so heavily on racial stereotypes but he was eventually sold on the script when he found out that his character has a significant role in driving the plot and he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to work under the National Lampoon banner. He prepared for the role by hanging out with some cousins to pick up on what he calls the “clerk at 7-11” accent.

The team also danced around gay jokes that fortunately come off as progressive and rely more on the sensibility of an open-minded audience rather than a homophobic one.

Van Wilder is set against that mythic ivy league experience which is nothing like what college is for most people. Penn was almost in a fraternity when a student at UCLA
But the opportunity to do a commercial during the last week of pledging forced him to assess his priorities. “A degree isn’t going to get me an acting job, acting jobs will get me acting jobs.”, he said. Ryan Reynolds also skipped out on college to pursue acting.

Reynolds, who’s own personality was crucial to shaping the Van Wilder character, delivers as much charming and engaging humor in person and is a very likable guy. Chevy Chase and Robin Williams have both built solid, memorable careers right out of the raw material of themselves. That same potential is evident in Reynolds.

Not to mention the sheer eye candy of his chiseled abs, his sleek torso and peaked biceps and two little grapefruit globes of his ass and a scene where Gwen responds with wide eyed astonishment at his offscreen genitalia exposed to an art class.

And when Gwen’s sexy editor comes on the screen, I expected some serious heat but instead the girl was handed over to the hero,Wilder, who comes off as more like her closeted brother then her lover.

Van Wilder one ups There’s Something About Mary and American Pie, capitalizing on the current wave of no holds barred sexy humour bringing back an intensely graphic Porky’s sensibility.

So as far as teen films go, the National Lampoon people have thrown all the tried and true plot devices, the asshole frat president, the geek, overenthusiastic sycophantic sorority sisters (as opposed to the cruelly elite sorority girl). Some of those stereotypes are in danger of becoming irrelevant as the very east coast Prep schools and Ivy League colleges that National Lampoon has been lampooning go through significant social and cultural change.

National Lampoon always felt like “Bound for Wall Street” Ivy Leaguers venting a little healthy rebellion before taking their landed chair in the establishment and highly relevant for the Reagan Eighties. The film works for someone like me who grew up watching films with that mythos, we’ll see how today’s audience responds. Reality aside, the characters work to drive the story and make room for some pretty funny gags.

The film also pays homage to some of the screen moments that stick out in the psyche of my generation. Curtis Armstrong who played Booger in the Nerds series and delivered the memorable line from Risky Business, “Sometimes you just gotta say, ‘What the Fuck’, plays a campus cop. Erik Estrada and Paul Gleason also have bit parts.

Van Wilder is funny, I laughed a lot. It was fun predicting the beats when all the predictable things would happen and thought that having Gwen as the won girl emerge from a puff of smoke looking lost waiting for her man to come and complete her was a nice, retro touch, adding some camp value.

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