Marlon Brando’s sublime comedy performance elevates The Freshman from screwball comedy to a quirky niche in film history – among films that comment on cult movies.
Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola’s The Godfather is director Andrew Bergman’s starting point. Incoming NYU film student Matthew Broderick is exposed not only to that Paramount film (and its sequel) in pretentious prof Paul Benedict’s classroom but meets up with a virtual doppelganger for Don Vito Corleone in the form of mobster Carmine Sabatini (Brando).
The ornate and intentionally screwy plotline has Brando making an irresistible offer to Broderick to work for him part-time as a delivery boy. Broderick’s first assignment is transporting a huge (but real) lizard from the airport. Broderick quickly tumbles to the criminality of Brando and his nutty partner Maximilian Schell, but is unable to extricate himself.
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Pic’s weakest element is the recurring satire of film studies. Although Benedict is droll as an academic poseur, the mocking of film analysis is puerile and obvious.
Broderick is ably abetted by two previous costars: Penelope Anne Miller (Biloxi Blues), winning as an offbeat form of mafia princess; and B.D. Wong (who popped up in Family Business) as Schell’s goofy partner in culinary crime. Tech credits on the mixed New York and Toronto shoot are good, capturing the right amount of Greenwich Village ambience.