Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
The flag is a dead giveaway that this is not commencement at U of T.
The University of Toronto has appeared in dozens of films. Sometimes it subs for a real campus–such as MIT in Good Will Hunting—and sometimes it’s just there for a nice establishing shot—like in The Air Up There. But in 1994’s PCU, the campus is really out there in all its glory.
PCU is a college comedy in the vein of Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds or Old School. It has all the hallmarks of those films (The Innocent Frosh Kid, The Shit-Disturbing Rebel, The Crusty Old Dean, The Sycophantic Student Who Helps the Dean, etc.), but with a 1990s spin: it turns out the once-fun campus has been taken over by political correctness! The result is that there are no more campus parties and everyone has broken into cliques (hippies, vegetarians, womynists, etc.) that spar with each other. Can ANYTHING bring these kids together??
There is no reason you cannot relive this classic moment on the front campus. All you need is a frisbee and some Elvis Costello.
U of T plays the role of the fictional Port Chester University, and virtually all of its photogenic buildings get a turn in the spotlight, while its sadder architectural achievements (we’re talking to you New College and Robarts Library) are absent.
The frisbee scene (above) gives a sense of just how much of the school is on display. Shot on the front campus, it gives U of T alum and students a chance to point out all their fave buildings: from Sig Sam to Med-Sci to Con Hall and UC, they’re all visible at some point.
As for the flick’s main human players: the Crusty Old Dean is played by Arrested Development‘s Jessica Walter, and her WASPy, ass-kissing student accomplice is played totally-not-against-type by David Spade.
There is also an extra layer of irony for fans of Old School to discover since Jeremy Piven plays the Crusty Old Dean in that film, a 180-turn from his role here as Droz, the Shit-Disturbing Rebel who teaches everyone the folly of their ways.
Droz leads a non-conformist frat of ne’er-do-wells known as “The Pit.” Opposing their efforts is Spade’s group, a secret society called “Balls and Shaft.” Yes, really.
A young Jeremy Piven (albeit with less hair than he has now) philosophizes in front of the Sir Daniel Wilson residences.
The film even tends to be geographically consistent, which means that when someone walks out the west side of University College, they actually end up in the courtyard in front of the Sir Daniel Wilson residence buildings.
In this scene, for example, Droz is explaining to the Innocent Frosh (played by Chris Young) how the campus has become segregated while strolling through a protest by the “womynists,” with whom Droz’s ex-girlfriend has hooked up.
Could he possibly win her back by showing her what a stand-up guy he is while simultaneously showing the womynists that everybody should be co-operating, not fighting with each other?!!!
(**SPOILER ALERT** Yes. **END SPOILER ALERT**)
Only Hollywood professionals are allowed to throw raw, ground meat from the top of Victoria College.
There are all sorts of other little places to spot, from the faux bus stop in front of Wycliffe College, to one of the most beautiful buildings on campus, Victoria College. The surrounding quad plays host to a peaceful protest by a vegan group, but a riot ensues when our rascally heroes toss raw meat at them from the building’s tower. (Take that, vegans!)
Before Favreau was so money, he was just Gutter.
The film even ventures afield when Jon Favreau’s stoner character (Gutter) heads into Port Chester itself. The town is played by historic Unionville, and there are several lingering shots of its lovely Main Street. (Chick Trivia: The pilot of Gilmore Girls was shot in the quaint Markham village before they built their own set for Stars Hollow.)
A very high Favreau has his mind blown, standing outside Old Firehall Sports, when a nice old lady seems to be asking him, “Can you blow me where the pampers is?”
And that’s not even the best scene. No, the film’s defining moment occurs when a pre-Entourage Piven confronts a pre-Swingers Favreau (in only his second film). Favreau is wearing a Merkins t-shirt and preparing to leave for a Merkins concert. Piven pulls him aside and implores him:
“What’s this? You’re wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see? Don’t be that guy.”
We think of it every time we see That Guy—and we see him a lot.
Hopefully they’re not running to Laser Floyd because the planetarium is, like, totally closed.
By late in the film, our young hero has managed to inadvertently offend every group on campus, quelle horreur! They unite (aha!) to track him down and ultimately find him on Philosopher’s Walk. Tucked away behind the Faculty of Law and the Royal Ontario Museum, the walk is usually a perfect place for a stroll, but it turns out also to be well-suited to your average lynch mob.
Soon, everyone ends up at The Pit where they all groove to a performance by George Clinton (long story) and realize how great it is to cooperate and stuff.
The script is based on the adventures of the writers, who attended Wesleyan University. One of the co-writers, Zak Penn, has gone on to more than a bit of fame, having written the two X-Men sequels. Not to mention The Incredible Hulk, which was shot here this summer.
How in love was PCU with U of T? Even the poster shot is right in front of the entrance to University College, shown in all of it’s neo-gothic glory.
According to the DVD commentary, the cast of PCU would engage in softball games with the cast of The Ref, which was also filming here at the time. The latter film featured Kevin Spacey and Dennis Leary, so those are a few games we would have liked to see.
Even the campus maps in PCU are awfully familiar.
Tying it all together is the fact that the film’s director was Hart Bochner, not only a Toronto native, but an actor. You probably remember him as Ellis, the coke-snorting jerk hitting on Holly McClane in the first Die Hard (“Hans, what’s with the gun? What am I, a method actor?”)
When PCU came out, it basically sank without a trace. Then it gained a cult following on video. Watching it again, we have concluded that it falls somewhere in between suckiness and cult greatness. A lot of the 90s/PC jokes don’t date so well, but it has some great comic bits, and if nothing else it should make you think twice before you go to your next concert.
For everyone’s sake—don’t be that guy.