Released: 19th July 1985 (Ireland)
Fun Fact: Joan Cusack and Sarah Jessica Parker auditioned for the role of Judy, Gilbert’s girlfriend, but the part went to Canadian actress Michelle Meyrink (who is now retired from acting and a Zen Buddhist). Cusack and SJP are doing fine OK too.
Revenge of the Nerds tells the story of different social groups at the fictional American university “Adams” and sees a group of freshman losers aka “Nerds” banding together after they’re kicked out of their college dorm by the football team, aka the “Jocks”. Alongside these two warring factions, we also get some supporting sororities, with the Omega Mu’s, a sorority of similar geeky women, and the Pi Delta Pi (think all-American blondes) group in support.
The Nerds are led by Lewis (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards), two old friends who take it upon themselves to get the troops together and renovate an old house. unfortunately the Jocks get jealous and threaten them, the only thing that can save the Nerds is to look for the backing of their own sponsored fraternity from another university. They eventually find favour with the black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs). Sadly the Greek Council at Adams (headed up by the Alpha Beta Jock Stan Gable) puts a stop to them, leaving the Tri Lambdas with a need to win the upcoming Greek Games during homecoming. If they win, they’re legitimised and will rule the roost.
The film is now over thirty years so has to be forgiven for aging, but to age in such offensive, sickening ways is unforgivable. From the outset, the whole thing slowly reveals itself as a racist, homophobic mess. Lumped in with the computer kids as “nerds” are a Japanese boy and a black gay boy (double points to the writers for merging two so-called minorities there). The obvious allusions to the nerds as Jews (our heroes’ full names are Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe) and the fact that the film continually tries to plant images of their bullying being a civil rights abuse is really quite unsettling. It’s worrying that audiences absolutely ate this up; the film grossed $40m, which when adjusted for inflation would be over $100 million in today’s bums-ons-seats money.
Aside from the broader issues, I also had problems with the character of Betty Childs and her treatment. To put it simply, she is the All-American cheerleader and is a victim of rape at the hands of Lewis the nerd,who is in disguise as Childs’ boyfriend. He removes the mask, but it turns out that it was all OK because the sex was really good – “all Jocks ever think about is sports, all we ever think about is sex…”. She ends up staying with Lewis with no repercussions for his actions.
The film gets a slight reprieve for a really fun musical number of the outcasts all playing together, it’s everything the rest of the film should have been.
As the nerds slowly morph into that which they hate – the jocks – you’re likely to become more and more disillusioned with the film. It’s not funny, it’s not clever and it’s not cool.