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Shelf Life: “Porky’s”

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Today marks the opening day of “Project X,” producer Todd Phillips’ ode to adolescent male wish fulfillment, and it’s interesting thus far how the film has divided critics: some celebrate it boundless, puerile hedonism, while others wonder aloud if their generation was ever quite as stupid or irresponsible as the one depicted on screen. Unsurprisingly, however, the behavior depicted in the 2012 is not without precedent, especially if you’ve seen any of a thousand movies released since the 1970s which more or less literally lay the groundwork for what Phillips and his director, Nima Nourizadeh, capture on camera.

As such, it seemed appropriate this week to go back and revisit one of the more successful examples (commercially speaking) of teen sex comedies to see first whether it’s still worth watching, and then whether those crazy kids were doing anything smarter or more responsibly than they evidently are now. All of which is why “Porky’s” is the subject of this week’s “Shelf Life.”


The Facts

Released March 19, 1982, “Porky’s” was a megahit for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released it: it earned more than $110 million from an initial investment of $4 million in production costs. That said, it was not well-received by critics, including Siskel and Ebert, who reportedly named it one of the worst films of 1982. Currently the film maintains a 32 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, it won the Golden Reel Award from the Canadian Genie Awards, and actor Doug McGrath was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Coach Warren.


What Still Works

The movie is almost nothing but stupid teenage hijinks, which in this case is a good thing: writer-director Bob Clark combined George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” aesthetic with “Animal House”’s sophomoric tomfoolery to create an anachronistic portrait of ‘50s high school boys who were desperate to see and experience the fairer sex. And even though it certainly objectifies the female form, and by extension the female “characters” in the film, “Porky’s” never fully feels exploitative, if only because Clark seems to understand that these sex-crazed males deserve a dose of humiliation to go along with their horndog entitlement. (This was an idea later utilized to exhaustive effect in the “American Pie” movies.) Consequently, at least as often as one of the guys scores, or even gets within jerking distance of any part of a female’s anatomy, they’re embarrassed, injured or otherwise on the receiving end of some prank, and usually one enacted publicly.

That said, there is a metric ton of nudity in this film, and quite frankly, that what viewers are paying to see. Not only will you see a very young Kim Cattrall playing an assistant coach with a particular quirk that comes out during intercourse, but pretty much every actress in the film gets partially to completely naked at some point during the film’s 90-minute running time. And in the best way possible, these women’s bodies are beautiful and natural and un-augmented by enhancements or surgery or other sorts of cartoonish, unnecessary exaggerations.

Probably the most important component of the film’s likeability, however, is the likeability of its characters. The teenage boys are immature, headstrong and stupid, but none of them are irredeemable, and in fact a few of them that are tougher or more bigoted actually learn how to be more tolerant in a way that feels strangely believable. They aren’t the entitled, porn-addled teenagers of today, they’re more optimistic and hopeful, if in fairly nefarious ways, and their scheming has enough of a hint of desperation, and honestly, likelihood of failure, that we never feel like they don’t somehow “pay” for what they’re after.


What Doesn’t Work

Even for a low-budget sex comedy, the movie is just stupid. There are a lot of sequences that rely directly on characters in the scene laughing to communicate how funny something is, and in most of those cases the characters overstate. While it’s perfectly believable for 16- and 17-year olds to be as incompetent as many of these are at getting women, some of the stuff they say just doesn’t make sense, and their efforts to woo range from clumsy to offensive.

Generally speaking, there are too many characters, however. Most of the guys look the same, and there’s at least five core characters, so when one of them has a problem, it’s frequently hard to figure out which one is which, or whether he’s the one who previously was dealing with an abusive father, or whatever. While it’s noble of Clark to attempt social commentary by introducing a Jewish character into the group and have him face prejudice, it feels like a distraction from the rest of the story.

Speaking of which, the Porky’s wraparound feels almost superfluous: while it certainly sets the stage for the teenagers’ desperation (or determination), Porky is gone for most of the movie, and is barely a device, much less a character. Meanwhile, the revenge taken on him and his establishment feels like gratifying wish-fulfillment – retaliation in kind against a bully – but it happens so suddenly it feels like Clark decided, “well, the subplots have all been wrapped up, so we might as well get down to the last sequence.” The boys hatch a plan that’s pretty complicated and while it’s amusing, it fails to deliver a truly satisfying sort of pay off to the characters we’ve watched grumble about him for the entire movie.


The Verdict

“Porky’s” is not a great film. It’s mindless entertainment that works only on the level it’s been conceived – a raunchy sex comedy featuring plenty of nudity and plenty of immature hijinks – but its efforts to interject more serious ideas or get any more complicated than that core story feel either clumsy or ripped off from better films. Instead, I’d recommend another 1982 film, “The Last American Virgin,” which explores many of the same themes but offers a wallop of a surprise ending that gives the whole thing much deeper emotional content. But at best, “Porky’s” is a trifle, worthy of a lazy Sunday afternoon viewing session, but certainly not worth canonization.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.