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Friday, January 12, 2018

Harvard Man

Here's a cinematic oddity that climbed up my Netflix queue for several years: 2001's Harvard Man, written and directed by James Toback. It's pretty bad, but in a fascinating way.

The plot sounds like a teen comedy: the point guard of the Harvard basketball team (Adrian Grenier) needs a lot of money to help his parents. He's dating the daughter of the local mob boss (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who offers to get the money from her father if he'll shave points on the next game. He does, but Gellar is pulling a fast one so he gets in trouble with both the mob and the FBI.

But Toback has chosen to make an art picture, and a pretentious one at that. You know you're in for trouble when there' split screens during the opening credits. There are more jump-cuts than Godard ever used, and the color tint of the film is saturated with yellow, as if the negative were dipped in urine.

If that weren't enough, Grenier is sleeping with his philosophy professor (Joey Lauren Adams), who gets to lecture on the difference between fear and dread and drop names like Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger. Great, Toback, you've read philosophy. There is also an extended series of sequences that show what a trip on LSD is like, as Grenier takes three massive hits. According to Wikipedia, Toback did this himself, and went on an eight-day high.

Perhaps the most amusing thing about this film is that Al Franken makes a cameo as himself, with his real daughter. It's weird to see Franken as an actor after being a senator, and now he's back to being a comedian again, I guess. His fall from grace is connected to Toback. This is straight from Wikipedia: n October 22, 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that 38 women have accused Toback of sexual harassment or assault. Since the article was published, 357 additional women contacted Los Angeles Times and said that Toback had sexually harassed them. The accounts stretch over a 40-year period. Toback has denied all the allegations." Wow! 357!

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