With Honors (1994): Movie Review

Shikhar Jauhari

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With Honors: Movie Review: Harvard public policy major Monty Kessler (Brendan Fraser) only cares about advancing his career. Still, he is forced to room with Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), a middle-aged bum living in the basement of the library. They need each other terribly, but they don’t realize it.

Kessler talks his three roommates into taking in a homeless man with a vivid personality during the cold season. Wilder is said to be the ghost of Walt Whitman throughout campus. You’re not far off the mark there; he was a nomad at heart when serving in the merchant marines and is now dying of asbestosis.

Joe Pesci is a natural fit for the role of the emotionally unstable Wilder. Kessler, played by Brendan Fraser, is an honors student whose senior report pays respect to his conservative professor (Gore Vidal). Wilder convinces this high achiever that nurturing one’s spirit is just as crucial as acquiring a solid academic foundation. And with the assistance of Kessler and his pals, Wilder meets a dignified end.

Monty slips and falls after braving the snow to get to the copy shop, sending the important envelope careening through a grated floor. He climbs into the Widener Library cellar and discovers that Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), a homeless guy who has taken up residence there and owns his manuscript, which he is using manuscript as kindling to keep warm. Monty offers Simon a deal: if he returns the manuscript, he may live in the abandoned van in his yard. Although his roommates are initially skeptical, Monty eventually wins them over and begins dating Simon.

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Simon discovers that he isn’t dealing with an alcoholic or junkie but rather a dropout who isn’t the useless bum he seems to be. Simon is so savvy and well-read that he can even outwit Professor Pitkannan’s verbal assaults. After Monty gets him into the attic, Simon becomes the fifth roommate, then wins over Everett and Courtney. After finding that Simon has a lung condition brought on by his exposure to asbestos in the Navy, Monty makes an effort to have Simon enrolled in public assistance.

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Kelly, who has a cordial connection with the males in the flat but is secretly in love with Fraser, anarchist Patrick Dempsey, the token pseudo-’60s radical, and affluent Josh Hamilton, a prissy whiner, all become more self-aware as Fraser does. But defiant Simon refuses to go along with Monty’s efforts to reintegrate him into society; instead, as Simon’s health declines, Monty, Courtney, and Everett focus on tracking down Simon’s estranged son.

Brendan Fraser brings a dark intensity to the role of Monty, and his anguished expressions help sell the character’s love for Simon. Simon stands in as Monty’s absentee father, while Monty takes the position of the son Simon abandoned years before. Everything is quite formulaic, but Fraser and Pesci make a good team. Fraser softens Pesci’s grating performance a little bit. (Pesci’s act in “Jimmy Hollywood” was more of an attack because of the lack of a protective barrier), Pesci seems to have fun as the wise ragamuffin, and that enthusiasm shines through the grain.

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The rest of the principal cast does fantastic work, not just Pesci. It’s a pity Fraser’s career has tanked since he started making movies for kids. The man showed potential in his early career with this and School Ties. Unfortunately, as he found success with comedic parts like Airheads, he began to cash in on his success. Fraser demonstrates that, despite his jock appearance, he is capable of displaying inner brilliance and the ability to generate emotion.

The events between him and Pesci may hit close to home and bring out buried emotions, but in the end, they serve as a catharsis for both protagonists as they discover what they truly desire from life. As for the others, Moira Kelly leaves you wondering what became of her in the film industry. Patrick Dempsey delivers a nuanced portrayal that stays true to his image from the time, and Josh Hamilton’s charismatic performance compelled me to check out his other work.

Right off the bat, it’s apparent that the protagonists of “With Honors” will learn that the untidy and stinky Simon is a Person Who Deserves Respect. It’s also obvious that, for the sake of elongating the manufactured struggle established early on, Monty will reject that conclusion for far longer than any sane person could. As the other roommates leave for the holidays, Monty takes in Simon to shelter him from the bitter cold, and the two become fast friends.

The performance is what elevates the film above average. Pesci, one of the most active performers, has made a name for himself as Hollywood’s favorite annoying eccentric you eventually grow to adore. In this role, he adopts a crooked way of speaking, allowing him to come at simple lines from unexpected angles.

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Without the film’s heavy emphasis on political correctness and liberal social values, With Honors would have been an inspiring tale. But With Honors falls short on many fronts due to its profanity, weak story line, character development and so on.

With Honors: Movie Info

Genre: Comedy, Drama

With Honors: Star Cast

  • Joe Pesci: Simon
  • Brendan Fraser: Monty
  • Moira Kelly: Courtney
  • Patrick Dempsey: Everett
  • Josh Hamilton: Jeff
  • Gore Vidal: Pitkannan
  • Deborah Lake Fortson: Homeless Woman
  • Marshall Hambro: Security Guard
  • Melinda Chilton: Helga
  • Harve Kolzow: Harvard Cop
  • James Deuter: Judge
  • Caroline Gibson: Donation Student
  • M. Lynda Robinson: Newspaper Purchaser #1
  • Richard Auguste: Newspaper Purchaser #2
  • Patricia B. Butcher: Librarian
  • Mary Seibel: Social Security Clerk
  • Mara Brock Akil: Ms. Moore (as Mara Brock)
  • Clebert Ford: Homeless Man

With Honors: Crew

  • Amy Robinson: Producer
  • Paula Weinstein: Producer
  • Director: Alek Keshishian
  • G. Mac Brown: Co-producer
  • Abe Milrad: Co-producer
  • Alan Rothenberg: Co-producer
  • Peter Guber: Executive producer
  • Jon Peters: Executive producer
  • Stacey Lassally: Associate producer
  • Julie Pitkanen: Associate producer
  • Patrick Leonard: Music
  • Sven Nykvist: Cinematography
  • Michael R. Miller: Film Editing
  • Marion Dougherty: Casting        
  • Nessa Hyams: Casting   
  • Barbara Ling: Production Design               
  • William Arnold: Art Direction
  • Cricket Rowland: Set Decoration             
  • Renee Ehrlich Kalfus: Costume Design  

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Production company: Spring Creek Productions

Box Office (Gross USA): $20.06 M

Running Time:1 hr 41 min

Rating: PG-13

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