Netflix Instant Streaming Selection of the Week: With Honors

Back in September, Netflix enforced a DVD + streaming price hike. In the onslaught of bad press and an outraged customer base, the service lost one million subscribers. For those who preferred the mailed DVDs to the streaming content, it seems the time has come to choose one or the other (or, you know, pay the new fee).

While complaints have been lodged that the streaming content is sorely lacking in quality titles, we at Blursto would like to argue the contrary. In fact, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and maybe everyone is just looking at this the wrong way.

Admittedly, the instant streaming movie selection leaves a lot to be desired. [1] New releases more or less don't exist, with most of the selection being older classics and under-the-radar B-movies.

If you're looking for The Smurfs (and let's face it, you probably are) you're shit out of luck. But the beauty of Instant Streaming lies in the very films we bitch about having to scroll past. Have you really taken a good look at some of the stuff you can watch?

If you have, there's a good chance you've read some of the descriptions, laughed, and kept browsing. We here at Blursto want to help you. We want to let you know which of these movies (if any) are worth watching. With cautious, sentimental optimism, we review With Honors. [2]

Title: With Honors

Director: Alek Keshishian

Stars: Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Hamilton, Gore Vidal

Netflix Synopsis: Harvard public-policy major Monty Kessler (Brendan Fraser) finds himself in a pinch when his thesis ends up in the hands of Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), a resourceful vagabond living in the university library's basement.

Sensing a meal ticket, Simon offers to trade pages of the essay for food and lodging. An unlikely bond forms between the pair, and Simon teaches the self-absorbed, overachieving Monty that there's more to life than book learning.

Words cannot express how badly I wanted this to a be a Good Will Hunting prequel that no one ever told me about. While it isn't exactly that, it's a sappy, predictable, incredibly sentimental film, probably moreso than GWH. But in no way is it unwatchable.

The early scenes aim to establish Brendan Fraser as a self-centered dickhead, and they do a pretty damn good job. [3] Admittedly, I'm not a huge Fraser fan in general (he's better off playing cavemen), but his character appears to have no redeeming qualities, except for his work ethic (which gets in the way of his happiness).

Obviously this all changes when he meets Simon (Pesci), a down-on-his-luck bum (which kind of goes hand-in-hand) who teaches him something more important than anything he'd learn in the classroom: compassion. As sappy as that sentence was, the movie is about 10x as sappy.

It feels like almost every other scene is a montage, showing a different stage of their relationship: Boy meets homeless man. Montage. Boy and homeless man don't get along. Montage. Boy and homeless man start to understand each other. Montage. Op! Boy learns something about homeless man's past and doesn't support it! Montage. Rinse, repeat.

It's like watching a movie intercut with music videos, only all of them take place at "Harvard." [4] Everyone has to take a moment and marinate with what occurred in the scene before.

As with any 90s film that has a plot point hinging on computers, With Honors feels dated and more than a little contrived. The series of events by which Monty meets Simon is particularly implausible, even for a movie.

Monty's computer crashes, and in a panic he decides to run out into a snowstorm to photocopy the chapters of his thesis he has already written. After getting in a douchey argument with his unrequited love/roommate Courtney, Monty sprints off, trips, and drops the envelope containing all his work down a narrow grate.

What we don't like about this movie:

I know movies require viewers to suspend their disbelief, but c'mon! The envelope had a 1/1000 chance of falling at such an angle, and lo and behold, it did. It's a small bone to pick, but when your entire story depends on bringing these two characters together, there's got to be a more organic way than that. [5]

This movie wants to make you cry (the Academy loves tearjerkers), but when every twist and turn is telegraphed from a mile away, it ends up being very unsatisfying. Watching Joe Pesci mumble through a beard is entertaining, and watching his asbestos-ridden lungs slowly kill him WOULD be moving, if it weren't so overtly Hallmark.

The music in this movie acts as a laugh track would on a multi-camera sitcom: it tells you how to feel, and when to feel it. Instead of adding to the emotional nuance of the film, it strips it of any shred of authenticity, and all that's left to do is roll your eyes.

Now, if you go in expecting sap (as I did, any movie I haven't heard of with this many big names is probably pretty awful), it's kind of enjoyable. Pesci seemed to really swing for the fences in this one, not playing a hothead wiseass for once, though it seemed to be eating him up inside. [6]

He does get a few callbacks to his past, with an early courtroom scene (unfortunately it's just not the same without Marisa Tomei) and other classic Pesci moments sprinkled in. If only we could've gotten a Home Alone reference, but it must've ended up on the cutting room floor.

Fraser is Fraser, no more no less. It's hard to think of an actor more consistently mediocre than Brendan Fraser. Though it should be said that he does manage to keep his "Brendan Fraser-ness" in check for most of the film. [7]

The real star, however, is Patrick Dempsey. Looking like the world's biggest boob (90s hippie, constantly drunk, long curly hair, backwards cap, Lennon sunglasses), Dempsey is Fraser's most trusted roommate and the only real source of comic relief.

Ladies and gentelman, Dr. Boob McDreamy, M.D.

His sole interest appears to be wine, [8] and his voiceover to open the film lets the viewer know what they're in for. As the local DJ and son of a wealthy father, his laid back attitude makes him quick to befriend the homeless Simon, and their banter is laughable. At least it doesn't try to be emotional.

Our conclusion:

On paper, this has the potential to be a pretty good movie. Then they made it. It's SO heavy handed and SO overly emotional that all you can do is laugh. It's a Hallmark Network Movie before the Hallmark Network existed, and it ends up being a lot funnier than it probably aims to be.

It's obvious that they're trying too hard, and as a result, it's hard to take seriously. So, don't! Enjoy Pesci mumbling "Boy oh boy" for half the movie and Patrick Dempsey's hair/demeanor for the other. Give it a try.

One Two word description: Emotional. Predictable.

It would've been a much better movie had Joe Pesci tried to shiv someone.

--Matthew Ludtke


[1] Though the same cannot be said for their selection of television shows. For now, at least, the selection is pretty badass.

[2] It's on Netflix as part of the Starz! Play service, so it's probably available on Starz! as well. I don't get Starz! in my cable package though, so what the fuck do I know?

[3] For instance, while running around campus, Fraser spots some sort of team (possibly cross country), and decides it's a good idea to weave through each and every member as he speeds past them, topping it off by knocking over team leader/roommate/love interest Courtney's hat. He's just an ass.

[4] The movie was shot in a few different locations, most of which were not Harvard.

[5] Although perhaps Keshishian meant for there to be a little "magic" that brought them together. If that's the case, I hate: A) This movie for attempting it. B) Myself for coming to that conclusion.

[6] Throughout the film, Pesci repeats the phrase "Boy oh boy," to the point that it seems like he NEEDS to say it to stay in character. I understand a homeless guy being a little eccentric, but damn. If he has a significant chunk of dialogue, it's almost guaranteed he'll say it. Definitely some drinking game potential there.

[7] One slip: Fraser is crying and hugging, and his face does that thing where he shows 110% emotion and then scales it back to 0 in about a second. If you've seen more of his filmography, you know what I'm talking about. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, though.

[8] Though when the gang takes a road trip, it's Dempsey behind the wheel. Yes, the same character who has been drunk THE ENTIRE MOVIE. Granted, it's his van, but the chances of him not downing half a bottle of wine with Joe Pesci are slim to none. It's an odd choice.


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