By Nicholas Cervania, September 11 2021—
University is a weird time in your life, especially when you’re first starting out. Oftentimes, it can come across as an awkward transitional period between high school and adult life. However, university can also be a place where you find yourself and your place in the world — and thankfully there are countless movies that explore this idea. During your first year, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Here are four fun movies you can watch when you want to relax and have a good laugh. These movies center around graduating high school seniors or life in post-secondary — something that most first-years will likely be able to relate to.
What lengths would you go to in order to find a place where you belong? What if you had the opportunity to reshape the outdated school and education system?
When Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) and his friends get rejected from every college they apply to, he decides to create a fraudulent post-secondary institution to fake his acceptance in order to appease his parents with high expectations.
After creating a website for his fake school, forging an acceptance letter and repairing an abandoned mental hospital to pose as the campus, Bartleby is ready to waste his college years playing games and goofing off with his friends. However, when it’s discovered that the website is fully functional and accepts enrollment for all who apply, Bartleby’s fake school is suddenly flooded with incoming students. Bartleby decides to let the students think his fake college is real and becomes responsible for managing his unconventional approach to education.
Like a lot of students coming into post-secondary after high school, Bartleby and his friends haven’t found their place in the world yet. While Bartleby hasn’t found a college to accept him, his best friend, Sherman Schrader III (Jonah Hill), has, but finds himself an outcast among the fraternity whose family legacy he wishes to carry on.
The story of Bartleby and his friends is one about youth finding and creating a place where they belong, a place where they can feel — as the name suggests — accepted.
Superbad was released in 2007, a time that was dominated by the generation of raunchy adult comedies. To be completely frank, most of the movies from this period fail to hold my attention. Most of them have very weak plots and premises and exceptionally bad pacing. However, Superbad is the one movie from this era that I think is the exception.
Superbad centers around life-long friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) as they try to procure alcohol for an end-of-the-year high school party. While seeming like a simple raunchy adult comedy, Superbad is a cleverly disguised and compassionate coming-of-age story.
The main problem that Evan, Seth and their friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) face throughout the movie is their lack of confidence. Each character’s development is based around them gaining confidence, making the film a lot easier to relate to.
Seth’s top priority is to “get laid,” but that goal stems from his insecurities and lack of self-confidence. In contrast to Seth, Evan seems to have little to no interest in sex. His main goal is to get closer to the girl he likes, while also making an effort to distance himself from Seth, who he thinks has stopped him from enjoying his time in high school and who he’s leaving behind to go to Dartmouth in the fall. Knowing this, Seth constantly feels betrayed by Evan throughout the events of the film, driving a wedge between them and their friendship. While the two reconcile before the end of the film, they ultimately sacrifice their friendship in order to pursue relationships with the girls they want. In the end, Seth and Evan get what they want, but they lose the only thing that they had, making for a bittersweet ending.
Superbad is a story about two friends learning that despite having an unqualified companionship with one another, they ultimately can’t avoid drifting apart as they grow older. It’s a hilarious and timeless coming-of-age story and one of the quintessential films of this generation.
21 Jump Street (2012) & 22 Jump Street (2014)
I’m putting these two movies together because they both centre around late high school and college life and because it’s difficult to revisit one without the other. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 21 and 22 Jump Street is a comedic movie series reboot of the 1987 TV series.
In 21 Jump Street, new police academy students and old high school classmates Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) become friends when they discover their strengths compliment each other’s weaknesses. When assigned an undercover case at a high school, they pose as students to infiltrate a drug operation. Once there, they find that the high school social order they had grown up with has changed. Schmidt takes this as an opportunity to have the fun high school experience he never had. While his main goal is to infiltrate the dealers and find the supplier, Schmidt finds himself distracted by his newfound social standing with the popular high school kids, leaving Jenko feeling left out.
What really elevates these movies is the over-the-top performances and the chemistry between the two main leads. Hill and Tatum feel like they’re real best friends and even as a viewer, you can feel the bond between them.
22 Jump Street sees Schmidt and Jenko in another undercover narcotics operation, this time in college. This time, Jenko is the one distracted by his newfound sense of belonging and Schmidt is left behind. Schmidt’s arc in this film revolves around his co-dependence on Jenko. Afraid of being left behind, Schmidt is reluctant to work independently from Jenko. Jenko however, sees this as Schmidt holding him back, as his constant responsibility to cater to Jenko stops him from pursuing the goals he wants to accomplish. By the end, however, both Schmidt and Jenko realize they’re nothing without each other. They manage to lift each other up without holding each other back.
A lot of Hollywood sequels try to pass off the same plot as the original movie and hope that audiences just won’t notice. While 22 Jump Street does this to an extent, it does so in a tongue-in-cheek, satirical way that makes it work even better. With a lot more meta-humor and commentary, 22 Jump Street improves upon the original without coming across as contrived or derivative.
Directed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart was released in 2019 and was a film that I felt was very inspired by Superbad without feeling like a direct rip-off. Both movies have similar plot structure, pacing, character dynamics, tone and resolution. But, there was one key difference in Booksmart that I think set it apart.
Lifelong best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Denver) are two overachieving, ascetic and accomplished high school seniors. Molly, who on the eve of graduation has been accepted and is planning on attending Yale, thinks she can finally leave behind the partying, underachieving peers of her high school. However, she discovers that despite their partying and fooling around, her underachieving peers have also managed to be accepted into prestigious universities. Upon realizing that she lost out on her youth by being the paragon of straight-edged overachievement, she is sent into a frenzy — one that she drags Amy into. This sets them off on an adventure to find and attend the most popular end-of-the-year party at their school.
Initially, I found myself slightly disinterested in the film. That is, until the reveal that all the underachieving students were also able to get into prestigious schools. This felt like a unique and modern take that wouldn’t have worked a decade ago. Back then, you had to follow a straight and narrow path to get into the college of your choice, but youth these days are presented with opportunities to follow unconventional paths to their destination. Students today are able to achieve success through means other than academic pursuit — no longer do you have to compromise your youth in order to protect your future. This was an interesting and fresh idea that I felt was explored excellently throughout this film.
While not as relatable or unique as Superbad, Booksmart is a fresh and modern take that can be enjoyed in a similar way.
While your first-year experience may not be as fanatical as these movies make university out to be, there’s no doubt that most first years will be able to engage with their content and characters. Enjoy it while it lasts.