Somewhere in the hierarchy of this movie, someone believes that to be homeless is to be thoughtful, that to be without is to be noble, that stripping away life's pretensions guarantees wisdom.
"With Honors" is a failed attempt to deify a homeless and scruffy fellow who lives and reads Zola in the basement of Harvard's Widener Library. Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci) stands for real life, Harvard for pretension. We've been seeing this one in various guises since the 1950s.
In a beginning that is far too slow and much too cute, we are introduced to three men and a girl who share a house and their problems. Our hero, Monty, (Brendan Fraser), is driven by his desire to be Secretary of State. The elegant and arrogant Professor Pitkannan (Gore Vidal) has just pronounced his student's thesis the first perfect step toward that goal when Monty's computer eats its hard disk. The document is lost.
Grabbing his partial print-out, Monty races through the snow with roommate Courtney (Moira Kelly) to make a backup copy. Tripping on a tiny ridge of snow, he loosens his grip on the precious thesis, which then manages to flutter through the sidewalk grill to the Widener boiler room bedroom of Simon Wilder, who refuses to return it. Monty will get one page at a time as he meets Simon's requests.
Perhaps the people who made "Enchanted April" could have made a fantasy of this awful premise, but no one on this movie has been touched by magic. Simon's requests are uninspired - neither funny nor provocative. With the single exception of the sentiment soaked moment when he takes control of the professor's class to spout a few sentences of Constitutional wisdom, the promise that Simon will be an interesting character is never fulfilled. In truth, he's a mess.
We expect Joe Pesci to be funny, but he isn't. As resident philosopher, he's an empty vessel. Somewhere in the hierarchy of this movie, someone believes that to be homeless is to be thoughtful, that to be without is to be noble, that stripping away life's pretensions guarantees wisdom. O.K., but give him some lines. Without lines and with nothing to give, he's just arrogant and spoiled rotten. Surely, we keep hoping, Simon will reveal a deeper self, a mysterious past, a contribution to the future. You could wait all night.
To be excessively generous, perhaps Simon has worth as the catalyst that pulls forth, inch by boring inch, the decency of the four roommates. They are played by four competent young actors, and their attention to Simon - if entirely unbelievable - brings a few nice moments. This amounts, however, to shameless manipulation of the audience.
It's interesting that '94 has produced, within a month of each other, this movie and "Reality Bites," - each a slashing attack on the emptiness of the '80s, a worthy subject by any definition. But, please make us laugh, or cry or think. Don't lecture us as if we hadn't even noticed that humanity is draining through the holes of the sieve our culture has become.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 488
Studio: Warner Bros.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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