A friend had never seen Real Genius, and I managed to do a good enough sales job that he wanted to watch it. I certainly had not seen the movie in the past decade, at least not with anyone who hadn’t seen it before and loved it for all the science nerdiness and adoration of clever practical jokes.
When I watch something with someone else, I am only partly in my own experience. Part of me is thinking and seeing along with them. Seeing this film that I have loved for years with someone who wasn’t already a fan meant that I was forced to see it with adult eyes. I was cringing at the way the women were treated, at the casual bro-culture evident in the film. From the opening scene with the meeting room full of men casually joking about weapons of war, to Chris Knight’s interview at Darlington Labs where, despite his juvenile humor, he gets an overture from the sexy Sherry Nugil who is trying to sleep with the Top Ten Minds in America. All of whom are male of course.
Mitch, the main character, is as sweet as ever. 15 years old, the youngest student admitted to Pacific Tech (loosely based on CalTech) mid-year, he was out-of-place in high school and is clearly uncomfortable in his early awkward moments at PacificTech. The arc of this story is predictable; he starts to meet his kind of people. He is taken under the wing of Chris Knight, a legend in the National Physics Club, a former prodigy, now grown into a confident, rebellious and muscular young manhood. Chris is soon to graduate, but he missed his younger self and so he asked Professor Hathaway if he could room with Mitch.
Next enters my favorite character, Jordan. Jordan, with her short-hair, an incredibly fast cadence to her speech, always arrives on scene with some interesting device she’s built herself and an experiment to test it to see if it works as she intended. Jordan is the saving light of this movie for me. 19 years old and hyperkinetic, she was, undoubtedly, the vision I had for myself of the sort of girl that I’m not exactly, but that maybe I would want to be.
Real Genius (1985). You are showing your age. Maybe we have made some progress in the past 31 years. I still love the practical jokes. I still look at Jordan and hope I see myself. The juvenile humor doesn’t quite work anymore. Maybe it shouldn’t have back then either.