Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Guess What We Learned in School Today? (1970)

          Though he later become synonymous with inspirational movies, thanks to his success with Rocky (1976) and The Karate Kid (1984), director John G. Avildsen dabbled in edgy sex comedies during the early ’70s, making this offbeat picture and the heinous Cry Uncle! (1971). Combining mockumentary and narrative elements, Guess What We Learned in School Today? ostensibly explores the impact of progressive sex education on the hypocritical residents of an uptight bedroom community. It’s the old satirical notion that folks who complain about sex are actually freaks at home. On some level, this sloppy and uneven movie’s politics are in the right place, since Avildsen and his collaborators portray open-minded intellectuals as forces for positive social change, while depicting hateful censors as villains who need their attitudes adjusted. The problem is how Avildsen and his collaborators express these ideas. Much of Guess What We Learned in School Today? comprises naughty vignettes with nudity and simulated sex, so there’s more than a little sensationalism sprinkled into the mix, and scenes of right-wingers getting their jollies are so perverse as to be cruel. Plus, it’s difficult to justify elements including the sexy, grown-up babysitter who nurtures a teenage boy’s nascent sexuality by reading him pornography while giving him handjobs. One suspects the filmmakers were trying to be outrageous, but more often than not, Guess What We Learned in School Today? is simply vulgar.
          The all-over-the-place storyline mostly follows three people. Roger (Richard Carballo) is a creepy cop who entraps women for solicitation arrests. Lance (Zachary Hains) is an insane ex-Marine who crusades against sex education, calling it a communist plot. And Dr. Lily Whitehorn (Yvonne McCall) is a sex educator with a clothing-optional institute. As various episodes unfold, Lily directly addresses the camera with remarks about the need for people to overcome inhibitions, while Lance and Roger engage in crazed antics. Lance has trouble getting it on with his wife until they convince a family friend to service their teenage son, at which point Lance mounts his wife from behind and drives her to climax while she watches her son have sex and moans her son’s name. Similarly, Roger seems averse to sex until a black transvestite goes down on him. You get the idea. Some of this is mildly interesting, but most of the camerawork is garish and ugly, the physical-comedy bits fall flat, and the satire is painfully obvious. Yet somehow, the picture develops a cumulative effect. The actors playing the rational characters are appealing (including a pair of attractive blondes who frequently appear topless), and, every so often, a throwaway scene gets the picture’s point across without lurid excess. The vignette of Lydia explaining the word “fuck” to schoolchildren accomplishes more than all the movie’s over-the-top carnal encounters put together.

Guess What We Learned in School Today?: FUNKY

1 comment:

Barry Miller said...

Rocky's 1976 Oscar ruined him. Even with Brando, Scott, Gielgud, and Belushi in his later films, he lost something vital in himself that never returned.