In 1985, against the backdrop of Thatcherism, Brian Jackson enrolls in the University of Bristol, a scholarship boy from seaside Essex with a love of knowledge for its own sake and a childhood spent watching "University Challenge," a college quiz show. At Bristol he tries out for the Challenge team and falls under the spell of Alice, a lovely blond with an extensive sexual past. He's smitten, and he carelessly manages to hurt the feelings of Rebecca Epstein, a friend whose politics and wit he admires. The Challenge finale is coming up; maybe Brian can redeem himself and still avoid being a prat. Written by
University Challenged - A love song to the other British Eighties...
Tom Hanks knows what he's doing when he puts his ha'penny's worth in as an executive producer - this has had sleeper hit written all over it from day one.
Lovingly made, with a nicely observed, but still sweet, story of social and socialist morals in the Eighties, it is evocative and rings (mostly) true. The performances are solid, the director gets the era right; but, and here it scores great points: it also has some real soul, and though in places an exercise in capturing its time it has a real wit, and intelligence as well as deprecating humour that serve it well.
Funny, intelligent, and definitely deeply romantic - it is also an amazing nostalgia trip for those of us who were around in Britain at that time. The production design has obviously been at great odds to make this work; from the posters in the student bedsit to the clothing it is very well thought through. Aided by a very competent script, that is just too worked through and lacks some real teeth to be really outstanding - it is much better than most American romantic comedies as it is so much more than boy meets (two) girls (and well you know the rest)...it actually touches a much wider world, and questions some values that are worth remembering. Moreover, even at its most manipulative it still somehow has real heart, and just carries you along.
It would have been great to have balanced the many laughs with some more complex dilemmas - but this is a surprisingly rounded comedy - a definite must for those who remember Britain in 1985 - without bashing at the politics endlessly - but it is just as enjoyable as a great romantic drama-comedy in its right... the Wedding Singer with much bigger brains...
Overall, impressive for its evocation of a lost age - before brands and spending took over the world - and it is guaranteed to make you grin - especially if you were there - and to sing - along. The theme of University Challenge alone will reduce a whole generation to wobbly nostalgic has beens. Excellent stuff, and one to be simply enjoyed.
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