EMPIRE ESSAY: Porky's Review

Image for EMPIRE ESSAY: Porky's

A group of Florida high scholars seek revenge on a nightclub owner and his sheriff brother.


The more distinguished Canadian film historians are no doubt apt to shudder violently when informed that, 20 years after its original release, Porky's is still the most successful Canadian film ever made. But then the venerable Canuck critics would do well to remember that, when you were 14, seeing a gargantuan female gym teacher doggedly playing tug of war with an anguished high-schooler's penis was the height of comedic sophistication, Woody Allen for adolescents. And as for "has anyone seen Mike Hunt?" — quite frankly we cacked ourselves.

It is of course utterly impossible to defend Porky's as anything other than the lowest, knuckles-dragging-on-the-ground species of comedy; in evolutionary terms it hasn't discovered fire yet. But debut director Bob Clark's genius was to identify exactly what was funny to your average teenage boy (and it was a movie with a less than overwhelming female following) and provide it, lots of it. While a few years later John Hughes would add a touchy-feely dose of adolescent angst to the teen comedy genre, and with it court an audience broadly divided down the middle gender-wise, Clark's movie exuded an exuberant crudity aimed specifically at young boys.

It was an international smash-hit and fathered a stream of imitators along the lines of Revenge Of The Nerds (1984) and provided the impetus for the almost endless series of Israeli Lemon Popsicle flicks. And its influence endures to this day. When in the late 90s and early OOs cinema rediscovered the teen movie with the likes of American Pie, Road Trip and, tragically, Dude, Where's My Car?, it wasn't Hughes' deftly-observed comedy dramas which provided the nostalgic memories ; and inspiration — it was the raucous raunchiness of Porky's. Essentially a series of juvenile i pranks stitched together with the story of Pee Wee Morris' (a lusty and likable Monahan) endlessly frustrated attempts to shed his virginity, Porky's is at heart a story about male friendship and the universal experience of hanging around in a gang. All the archetypes are present and correct; the local bigot, the slightly sophisticated older guys and in Pee Wee, the mildly embarrassing erotomaniac.

It's also a film that's not quite as straightforward as it might seem. Road Trip star Breckin Meyer may have felt, as he told Empire, that Porky's was a "A real, wow boobies, moment for me" but, in fact, it's the male anatomy that the movie's obsessed with. At the risk of indulging in a Tarantinoesque Top Gun deconstruction, Porky's is much more interested in knobs than it is in knockers. From Pee Wee's horrified observation that his morning hard-on appears to be shrinking through the infamous visit to Miss Cherry Forever and her pitiless assessment of their manhoods ("You'd better strap a board across his ass or he's liable to fall in" she remarks of the hapless Pee Wee) to that girls' shower scene; it's a movie obsessed with male genitals with bloke nudity outstripping visible female flesh by a factor of at least two to one. Clark perceptively realised that younger male teenagers are at least as obsessed with their own bodies as they are with girls. Hordes of anxious adolescents recognised themselves in both Pee Wee's frustration and desperate sexual braggadocio.

It's also an unusual historical hybrid. The behaviour of the kids of Angel Beach would in fact be utterly intolerable by 1950s standards, leading if not to the electric chair, to reform school. But George Lucas had proved that audiences had an appetite for an airbrushed nostalgia with American Graffiti in 1973. Bob Clark takes the liberated sexual mores of the pre-AIDS 80s and rivets them to the social innocence of a fantasised 50s, which in point of fact, probably never existed. It's a device which has many advantages, not least of avoiding the charge of crude sexism by implausibly painting the girls as being as up for it as the boys (during the cock-through-the-girls'-shower-sequence, for instance, the girls are portrayed as amused and delighted rather than shocked or threatened).

Clarke even adds a couple of anti-bigotry subplots into the mix —Jewish student Brian Schwartz (Scott Columby) is taunted by a racist who calls him a "kite". "It's 'kike'," he coolly responds, "you're too stupid to even be a good bigot." And then there's the kids' war of attrition with redneck Porky, whose Confederate flag-bedecked roadhouse is triumphally destroyed. Porky's is a movie without a mean bone in its body; a movie that punishes intolerance and bigotry and rewards good humour, in Pee Wee's case with his final deflowering in the back of a school bus. And for a generation for whom it was a key video rental — if we could find someone who looked 18 to get it for us — a part of our hearts, and indeed other vital organs will always belong to the testosterone drenched halls of Angel Beach High.

Dicks and dames epic. Side-splittingly funny.