University. That one word conjures a motley assortment of memories and associations, some mundane, some embarrassing, some incredible. Many of you will soon be preparing for the beginning of ‘the best years of your life’, leaving behind your parents and school uniforms. But how do the Hollywood versions of what to expect from uni life measure up against reality?
It’s 1960s America. Freshmen Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman are trying to join a fraternity at Faber College. Failing to make the cut into prestigious Omega Theta Pi House, full of self-important megalomaniacs, they approach notorious Delta Tau Chi House next door, known as the worst frat house on campus that will take anyone. This is the ‘lad camp’, and the Dean wants to shut it down, with dire – and hilarious – consequences.
This is, of course, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), one of the earliest comedies focussing on the more fantastical and outrageous aspects of university such as food fights, horses in offices and toga parties. When the going gets tough, the Deltas go on a road trip. This film is a complete farce, and gets away with it. Unfortunately, it also spawned movies like American Pie presents: Beta House (2007), which carries on the same theme of delinquency and disrespect, albeit with a hint of sexism.
Like the rest of the films in the series, this at times amusing comedy about teenage life and growing up – which few characters actually achieve – cannot hide behind an ‘ironic’ portrayal of college. The plot needs little explanation, suffice to say it involves strippers, I mean female students, alcohol, disgusting tasks and general stupidity. Essays and deadlines exist in a different world to the characters, as do morals and self-respect.
At the other end of the genre’s spectrum, The Social Network (2010) documents the founding of Facebook, which was created by Mark Zuckerberg during his time at Harvard. A story of betrayal fuelled by anger and jealousy, this film explores the darker side of human characters when business, money and damaged egos destroy friendship. Despite being fairly lengthy, it’s definitely worth a watch. If you’re left wanting more, you should try the thrilling 21 (2008), about a top maths student at MIT whose professor creates a Blackjack team out of his best students to take on the Vegas casinos by counting cards. Now that’s definitely something that doesn’t happen every day at uni.
Representing Great Britain, Starter for 10 (2006) is set in 1985, and follows Essex boy Brian Jackson, played by James McAvoy, at Bristol University as he tries to find his feet and make it onto the University Challenge team. Brian makes mistakes, some a lot more serious than others, before he learns the value of real friendship and the importance of being true to yourself. Whilst this may seem a touch clichéd, I guarantee you the plot will keep you on your toes, as will the sharp script. For me, this is the best representation of university, which is a place where you will both laugh and cry, and learn more about yourself and others than anywhere else.