The stolid social prejudice drama of the 1950s gets an ineffective updating in SCHOOL TIES, the story of an ultra-WASP boys' prep school that brings a Jewish student in as a scholarship ringer to quarterback their football team.
David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is a local football star from blue-collar Scranton who's plucked from almost-certain obscurity at the start of his senior year of high school to quarterback the team at exclusive St. Matthew's Prep, an Ivy League "feed school." Familiar with anti-Semitic prejudice in
his home town, Greene elects to keep his religion secret at the school, even though it means biting his tongue against ethnic jokes and shirking his religious obligations by playing football on Rosh Hashanah.
After weathering some initial resentment from Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), the boy he replaces, the two wind up friends as Dillon becomes Greene's chief blocker on the field. However, losing his position on the team is just the first stop on Dillon's downward spiral, seemingly at David's hands. He
also loses his girlfriend Sally Wheeler (Amy Locane) to the hunky Greene.
Overhearing some loose talk at an alumni party, Dillon learns of Greene's religion and begins mobilizing the other students to make his life miserable. Greene hangs tough, although he loses Sally. But Dillon steps up the harassment, framing Greene for cheating on a final exam and exploiting the
anti-Semitism of the school's honor system enforcement committee. When it looks certain that Greene will get expelled, a third student steps forward who knows the truth and it is Dillon who winds up leaving.
As these films go, SCHOOL TIES is more simplistic and has its dice more loaded than usual. To begin with, David doesn't seem particularly religious. He doesn't eat kosher, and he goes along to get along. And the film constantly underscores his "averageness" to make his acceptance by his classmates
more plausible. His classmates, meanwhile, are the kind of uptight, overprivileged quasi-Nazis that somehow wind up all in one place in films like this. At any rate, they'd hardly fit anyone's idea of future leaders of commerce and society.
In the real world, it's more likely that Greene's working-class background would work harder against his acceptance at a snooty prep school than his religious beliefs, but SCHOOL TIES largely ignores this angle. Instead, it takes an odd side trip into the tremendous pressure on the student scions
of powerful families to follow tradition and get into top schools. Besides Dillon's cheating, another student has a nervous breakdown after flunking a French exam.
Movies set in a school environment have their own tradition of showing the protagonist finally rejecting the destructive competitive pressures, from IF, which ends with an armed insurrection no less, to the famous ending of THE PAPER CHASE, in which the hero throws away his law school grade report
without looking at it. In SCHOOL TIES, the "system" barely comes under question. Greene fully comprehends that he's being kept in school not because of some outburst of altruism from St. Matthew's administrators, but because having a star quarterback is more important to them than maintaining
their ethnic purity. Greene ends up by informing the headmaster that he will use them to get into a first-rate school just as they are using him to win at football.
In this "pragmatic" resolution, SCHOOL TIES seems to accept educational elitism as earnestly as it rejects religious elitism. It's as if some forms of elitism are more elite than others when, in fact, elitism itself is the root of the social evil the film denounces. Its integrity thus compromised,
and having little else going for it, SCHOOL TIES can't help but be an inferior film. (Profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The stolid social prejudice drama of the 1950s gets an ineffective updating in SCHOOL TIES, the story of an ultra-WASP boys' prep school that brings a Jewish student in as a scholarship ringer to quarterback their football team. David Greene (Brendan Fras… (more)