Every few years there has to be a film about inspiring teachers. “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, “How Green was My Valley”, “The Blackboard Jungle”, “To Sir with Love” ad infinitum . 30 Years ago this month it was “Teachers”, a Nick Nolte vehicle with a lot of familiar faces in it but not quite the sort of inspiration you found in the old days. The movie could have easily been parodied with a title like “Goodbye Mr. Chips With Tits”.
This is a honest effort to portray the problems in the school system with a sincere desire to call everyone to action. The problem is that it lays it on so thick, you doubt whether it has the smell of truth to it. Everything that happens in the film happened every day in schools across the country. Much of it still happens today. It just does not all happen in the same school in the same week as is played out here. The movie is entertaining enough but it is filled with cliches and events that would spark protests and marches these days, not the kind of casual shrugging of the shoulders that seems to be standard for earlier times.
When movies that you have no expectations for, come out of no where and sweep you up in a moment, you know you have been blessed with a perfect storm of serendipity. No film from 1984 epitomizes this more that “The Karate Kid”. It had a title that sounded like a kids cartoon show, it starred no one that anyone had heard of except the guy who played Arnold on “Happy Days”. It turned into a smash, making over $90 Million and landing in the number five spot for the year. [By the way, those of you following the blog through the year, this is the ninth film released so far in 1984 to make the top ten. So by mid-June 9 out of 10 of the top financial successes of the year have come out. All that is left is the film that will be number one and it is six months away.]
A lot of people have compared “the Karate Kid” to “Rocky” and that is understandable. Both films feature an underdog, fighting against a superior opponent while at the same time developing a love interest and being mentored by an older father figure. Oh yeah, they were also both directed by John G. Avildsen. Those comparisons are important but they are also superficial. “the Karate Kid” has a love story, but the central love story is the mentor relationship. Both films are about finding who you are and challenging the odds, but I think “The Karate Kid” is a lot more relateable for most people because the issues faced by Daniel LaRusso are the same ones faced by kids everyday. Kids start new schools, they don’t know the culture they are plopped down in, they are bullied and they are humiliated and they all find different ways to cope. “Rocky” is the better picture but The Karate Kid’s lessons are something more people can connect with.