Real Genius — Three Decades Later, It Still Holds Up

Posted on June 21, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Thirty years ago, a college comedy called “Real Genius” was released, and it is good to see that it holds up well. It is even more apt in some ways now than it was when it came out. Tor’s Emily Asher-Perrin has an excellent assessment of “Real Genius.” Long before “The Big Bang Theory,” this story of super-science-smarties at a CalTech-style college who discover that the experiments they are doing are for a new weapons system.

Asher-Perrin writes:

he movie is better at portraying geeks in ways that don’t just melt down to old tropes of pocket protectors and bow ties and awkwardness. It communicates that having an outrageous IQ can be isolating, but doesn’t make all smart people out to be socially undeveloped shut-ins. It also shows us how being driven toward answers can blind even the most optimistic, well-meaning folks into making terrible mistakes. And it communicates what it’s like to study for finals more realistically than any film I’ve ever seen, which is an accomplishment and a half.

No really, there’s a scene where everyone is gathered around a communal table to cram for the exam, and one guy just gets up and starts screaming at everyone before running from the building. Everyone else is unresponsive and some other dude sitting on the room’s perimeter moves into his vacated seat without comment. That’s basically the experience distilled into its purest form.

Also, did I mention that it ends on a Tears For Fears song? Because that should be enough to recommend it right there.

Another great thing about this film is how it doesn’t couch itself in the “nerd versus jock” dynamic. It’s a boring cliche that rarely bothers to examine the realities of persecution due to differences. Instead, it herds people into group stereotypes and activity negates character complexity. Real Genius knows this, and most of the rivalry here is geek-on-geek.

As she points out, the women in the film are more varied, intelligent, and substantial than in most teen comedies, especially the character named Jordan. “It’s not the fact that she might be on the spectrum itself that’s remarkable, but the fact that the film never suggests that Jordan should be viewed differently because of it. It doesn’t make her “special” in a manic pixie dream way, but it doesn’t make her pitiable either. She’s simply who she is, and that person is still portrayed as desirable and engaging and brilliant.”

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