With Honors (1994)

with honors

“I’m ending our friendship”

The Scoop: 1994 R directed by Alek Keshishian and starring Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, and Patrick Dempsey

Tagline: If you want a degree go to Harvard. If you want an education go to Simon Wilder.

Summary Capsule: Harvard bum teaches students a thing or two about hygiene and life


Justin’s rating: Shows improvement! Plays well with others!

Justin’s review: I suppose it’s time to peel off another layer of saran wrap and open up a fresh batch of Justin’s Weird Movie Theories. If you like them enough, maybe someday I’ll send you a whole box for Christmas. Then you can share with the family and friends and marvel at how much I just make up stuff to suit my passing whims without giving due consideration to whether these theories are plausible or not. But, hey, don’t they smell good? Ahhh.

Certain movies mean more to you when you see them at different times in your life. That’s profound, eh? Like, Aristotle-profound. So when you’re a kid, you tend to like kid flicks — the kind where an eight-year old consistently outsmarts middle aged criminals — and when you’re older, you tend to like thoughtful, emotion-provoking dramas that involve large amounts of costume and “thees” and “thys” in the dialogue. Well, that’s if you’re a woman; if you’re a guy, you would gladly trade many thoughtful dramas for something that involves someone hitting someone else in the groin. So it isn’t a completely wacked-out theory to say that *college kids* like *college movies.* Something called “demographics” has to do with that, mayhaps.

This is why — for me — few college-themed films have impacted me as much, or stuck in my regular viewing habits, as the ones that came out between 1994 and 1999 (go ahead, figure out how ancient I am from that). When you’re going through an experience in real life, you tend to identify with similar experiences on screen. Suddenly, Julia Roberts in that romance flick is so like you it’s uncanny. She might have even stalked you or something to get the background for her character.

Seeing as how I’m in serious danger of letting my introduction rant go past the third paragraph, I’ll just move on to this film’s review. Got my fuzzy slippers, bag of pretzel fragments, and watching Scrubs on the tellie in the background: let’s go!

Before he majored in movies that centered around slapstick and hitting trees, Brendan Fraser had an almost serious role as Monty, an overachieving bookworm at Harvard University. Now, studyaholic college kids are a dime a 4.0 GPA, and while it’s good to learn things and stuff, you can easily become a mite bit obsessed about grades and easily overlook that thing we call Life (which is a very cool board game too) as it goes by.

Pinching his eyes and crumpling his studly nose, Monty is so set on rising to the top of his academic ladder that he’s completely overlooked friends, fun, democratic idealism, and women with moisturizer. Poor guy. If only someone, SOMEone, would come along to show him the way. Since you’re too busy downloading illegal music off the internet, the job got passed on to Joe Pesci, who took a brief two-month hiatus from making mobster movies to do something halfway inspiring.

Pesci is Simon, a homeless guy, and as we all know, bums on the street are filled to the brim with wisdom and kindness and inner beauty. Simon is also lazy, a family deserter, and an alcoholic, but we can’t be picky. Yet Monty needs a mentor, and who better to mentor Harvard snobs than someone who knows intimately what a gutter tastes like?

When Simon gets ahold of Monty’s thesis and ransoms it back to him, Monty allows the bum to move in his house for the duration of the school year. This doesn’t go over too well with his other roommates, which include Jeffrey (Josh Hamilton), Everett (Patrick Dempsey), and Courtney (Moira Kelly).

Now, between this movie and The Cutting Edge, I’ve had a bit of a thing for Moira. It make you just want to smack the other guys in that house that they have a doe-eyed nymph living in their midst and they seem like they just don’t care.

A bulk of the film revolves around Monty taking care of Simon, and Simon teaching — in all his hobo superiority — what life is really about. Actually, I don’t really want to give you the impression that I dislike this film or its characters, despite its ridiculousness. It’s simple and sweet, and many of the themes of With Honors have stuck with me since I first saw it my freshman year at college.

It’s in the little ways that Simon gets Monty to open his eyes and start becoming a man; to see everyone as the people they are instead of their station, to start questioning what his professors tell him, to develop a set of priorities that put the truly important things first. At the same time, Monty goes on a quest to restore humanity to the downtrodden Simon, fighting to grant him respect and dignity that all humans should share. I couldn’t imagine two stranger people for these roles — well, maybe Elmo and Shaq — but by the end of the film they really seem like family to me.

While more serious than many Animal House-style college comedies, With Honors nevertheless has quite a few lighthearted moments (when the one nerdy roomie tells Simon that he’s going to med school to become an gynocologist, it’s hard to think of anyone else who might be less secure between a woman’s legs) and fleshes out a unique college lifestyle. And seeing Joe Pesci in the bathtub with Viking horns and a plunger is something that you need to experience at least once in your life.

More than comedy, however, are the touching moments that are spread throughout With Honors like onion dip on Firey Hot Cheetoes. Mmm, your mouth burns with happiness! They’re familiar themes, like living life to the fullest and not being a complete chicken all the time, but hey, I’m sometimes a sucker for this kind of thing. Perhaps it’s even somewhat emotionally manipulative, but I guess I can admit that this is one of the few movies that I’ve ever consistently teared up each time I watch — and twice during each showing no less, but I’ll let you guess the scenes.

So in summary, hobos are wise, pajama parties are a ticketed affair, and everyone should grab Moira Kelly by the shoulders and smooch her a good one before they die.

I Got My Ph.D. In "Beard"
I Got My Ph.D. In “Beard”


  • You know, they DID have Windows 3.1 in 1994. Why are you using a really bad DOS-based word processor, Monty?
  • I like the screen when the computer crashes, I like how a computer would be so considerate to take time to actually make those funny symbols instead of just freezing or blacking like they usually do

Groovy Quotes

Everett: It’s true, Harvard doesn’t have any standards left. They’re letting anyone in who’s bright.

Monty: [after watching Courney shave her legs] Never wanted to be a razor so bad in my life.

Monty: Why did you say that I was a loser?
Simon: Winners forget they’re in a race, they just love to run. You try too hard.

Simon: Women. Ain’t they perfect?
Monty: Not always.
Simon: Yes, they are, they’re perfect. Don’t matter if they’re skinny, fat, blond or blue. If a woman is willing to give you her love, Harvard, it’s the greatest gift in the world. Makes you taller, makes you smarter, makes your teeth shine. Boy, oh, boy, women are perfect.

Simon: Know why you hate me so much Jeffrey? Because I look the way you feel.

Courtney: What are you doing?
Monty: I’m ending our friendship.

Simon: Yes I’m a bum. But I’m a Harvard bum.

Simon: You asked the question, sir, now let me answer it. The beauty of the Constitution is that it can always be changed. The beauty of the Constitution is that it makes no set law other than faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.
Professor Pitkannan: Faith in the wisdom of the people is exactly what makes the Constitution incomplete and crude.
Simon Wilder: Crude? No, sir. Our “founding parents” were pompous, white, middle-aged farmers, but they were also great men. Because they knew one thing that all great men should know: that they didn’t know everything. Sure, they’d make mistakes, but they made sure to leave a way to correct them. The president is not an “elected king,” no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the “crude” Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s a servant of the people. He’s a bum, okay Mr. Pitkannan? He’s just a bum. The only bliss he’s searching for is freedom, and justice.

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