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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…