School Ties Essay Research Paper School Ties

School Ties Essay, Research Paper

School Ties Brendan Fraser has evolved considerably in the few months between his admirable new film, “School Ties,” and his debut as a cave dude in “Encino Man” — not that the movies really differ much thematically. Both turn on a teenager’s driving need to win over his crowd, to fit in with the cool kids — be he an unearthed Cro-Magnon, or as in this case, a Jewish quarterback who wins an athletic scholarship to a prestigious New England prep school in 1955. Ideally positioned to become a BMOC on an otherwise WASP campus, the studly ballplayer takes his coach’s suggestion — “You don’t have to explain nothing to nobody” — and hides the truth from his clannish new classmates. Fraser’s performance, one of quiet power and sweet resolve that is not in the least stereotypical, sustains this worthy but lopsided examination of antisemitism in a venue of wide lawns and narrow minds. Peachy-skinned and privileged, the characters and the solid young actors who play them might have tumbled right out of “Dead Poets Society” (the overwrought fellow who drinks disinfectant when he flunks French, for instance). Initially the adolescent scions welcome the polite but poor David Greene (Fraser) to their glossy green turf. His cherubic roommate (Chris O’Donnell) lends him a school tie, slaps him on the back and directs him to the chapel, where the Episcopalian equivalent of Shylock presides over opening ceremonies. Headmaster Bartram (Peter Donat) praises the assembled as “the elite of the nation … that cares more for hard work, more for service than capital gain.” An aggressive antisemite, Bartram castigates David for secretly celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the chapel. “You people are very determined,” says Bartram. “{But} the meek shall inherit the Earth.” David fires back: “When they do, I wonder how meek they’ll be.” The racist comments of David’s peers carry more sting and play more realistically than the headmaster’s hostility, and they seem to be inordinately inclined to work ethnic slurs into the conversation. (One kid brags about getting a deal on a record player: “I jewed him down to $20.”) It’s bad enough when they think he’s one of their own kind, but when David is exposed by a loose-lipped alum, the former quarterback, Dillon (Matt Damon), uses the information to discredit David — who has not only stolen Dillon’s glory but the heart of his thoroughbred blond sweetheart (Amy Locane). Angry that he pretended to be one of them, his classmates are soon painting swastikas above David’s bunk. Matters come to a head when one of them accuses David of an ethical breach that could lead to his dismissal and destroy the future of this humble hunk from a lunch-pail town in Pennsylvania. Will David be kicked out of St. Matt’s, thereby losing an opportunity to go to Harvard? Okay, so it’s a little corny, but it is good for you. “School Ties,” written by Dick Wolf (TV’s “Law & Order”) and Darryl Ponicsan (”Taps”), is doubtless better than it deserves to be, thanks to Fraser, whose Costner-esque dash serves as an antidote to the dated material. Director Robert Mandel, best known for the flashy techno-thriller “F/X,” brings a surprisingly sensitive touch to this earnest story of intolerance. Meant to serve as a “Gentleman’s Agreement” for the ’90s, it’s actually got much more in common with “The Outsiders” or even “Pretty in Pink.” The moral is the same whether you’re a greaser, a tomboy, a gentile or a Jew. You’ve got to be you.

School Ties David Greene, the young hero of “School Ties,” appears to be perfect. He’s a good student, an exceptional athlete, a loyal friend, a dutiful son, an affectionate brother and a chivalrous boyfriend who’s not bad in the kissing and dancing departments, either. His problem — at least according to the mid-’50s upper-crust society — is he’s Jewish. The movie’s problem is he’s too perfect. Brendan Fraser, last seen as a thawed troglodyte in “Encino Man,” plays David, another outsider looking in. When an Ivy League prep school needs a ringer for its football team, he’s given a scholarship and told to keep quiet about his background. Not only is he Jewish, he’s from low-class Scranton, Pa. Both identities are worlds unknown to the pampered preppies he meets as a senior at St. Matthew’s Academy. David arrives inauspiciously after acquiring a shiner from a Scranton tough who threw slurs as well as punches. His new roommates are in awe, asking in disbelief if he’s been in a fistfight. When David says yes, their eyes widen. “Like a ‘rumble’?” one asks. “Yeah, a ‘rumble,’ ” David says, suppressing a laugh. But he’s not as amused when antisemitic remarks casually pass their lips. Rather than expose himself to their barbs, David hides his Star of David necklace and tries to fit in. It’s not easy when “Chariots of Fire” conflicts begin to confront him. David has to skip Rosh Hashana services to play a football game. After chiding him for breaking a tradition, a disapproving headmaster (Peter Donat) tells David, “You people are very . . . determined.” The handsome quarterback displaces popular heir-apparent Dillon (Matt Damon) not only on the team but also in the affections of blueblood shiksa Sally (a demure Amy Locane). Of course, David’s truth will out — but not until after a “Dead Poets Society” subplot involving a tyrannical French teacher (Zeljko Ivanek). Ah, the cruelty of the immersion method. The school’s honor system is also tested late in the movie, following a series of now-open antisemitic attacks on David. Director Robert Mandel makes sure we bond with David on his lonely trip, sharing his wonderment at the lushness of the privileged life and his bewilderment at its arcane ways. For his part, Fraser gives David a brooding dignity and a clear-eyed righteousness that gradually toughens as he wisens. But there’s a dramatic imbalance to Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan’s screenplay. By making David a saint, they make his bigoted tormentors ultra-despicable. It’s so easy to identify who’s in the right that it’s hard to remember this wrong may exist in us.