' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Oxford Blues (1984)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: Oxford Blues (1984)

There is picturesque sequence in “Oxford Blues”, the epic teenage rowing movie of 1984, that finds our theoretical hero, Nick DeAngelo (Rob Lowe), in a boat with his various British nemeses as they practice. It is not so much what they are doing as what they are wearing. The Brits are all outfitted in regal athletic sweatsuits bearing the word “England.” Nick, on the other hand, has strayed, done up in a more gaudy sweatsuit emblazoned with the word “Las Vegas.”

I have no idea if rowers really dress this way for practice. I doubt they do. Still, in a single costuming flourish it illustrates the film’s ethos, one that casts British and American relations as not being any less adversarial than they were in 1775. The English have rules. Americans live to break rules. And so a rule-breaking Ugly American will saunter across the hallowed halls of Oxford University in his cowboy boots like John Wayne, if John Wayne had hair mousse, dreamy eyes and reddish-hued lips. It’s the sort of movie that would have preferred “Prince of Thieves” to “Adventures of Robin Hood” because it’s the sort of movie that believes only an American with an American accent could have conquered England.


Director Robert Boris is, shall we say, slightly less than subtle in his presentation of a fuddy duddy society across the Atlantic where students sport robes and speak proper and take tea and resolutely offer no second chances (until the plot dictates that they do). Oh, there is talk of Great Britain being the original home of rogues and scoundrels, and this is not inaccurate, but “Oxford Blues” presents a society more in debt to the Royal Family than The Sex Pistols.

Nick's dorm room wall comes equipped with a James Dean poster but he is not a Rebel Without A Cause because his Cause is made explicit. He wants to meet the requisitely beguiling Lady Victoria (Amanda Pays), alternately presented as hella awesome as Princess Kate and as clueless as Britt Eklund in “The Man With The Golden Gun”, and woo her. His plan consists of scheming his way into Oxford University and joining the rowing team thereby allowing his oaring talents to demonstrate his irresistible manliness. Of course, his All-American attitude will make this task difficult. He’s a rule-breaker who rows better alone, and so he not only runs afoul of an opposing rower, Colin Gilchrist Fisher, played by Julian Sands with verve, but angers his own rowing team, including his fellow American Rona (Ally Sheedy), by flouting convention.


“Energy and strength doesn't win races,” Nick is told, “character does.” And so ostensibly “Oxford Blues” becomes Nick's journey to finding character, to work alongside others, to follow rules and to row with a team, to embrace the Union Jack as much as the Stars and Stripes. Except that the film alternately argues on behalf of entitlement, an idea encapsulated in the attitude of its leading man.

As the film opens, Nick is a valet in Vegas when a woman (Gail Strickland) – a cougar, to use the parlance of our times – drives up in a super sleek ride and not only sleeps with him but gives him the keys to her car and lets him drive off on it. That’s Rob Lowe in capsule. Whatever he wants, he gets...instantly. He’s sort of the male version of Angela Hayes in “American Beauty” – you know, when she expresses confusion that Ricky Fitts didn’t even look at her, like, once. If a woman didn’t want to sleep with his character, Rob Lowe would probably express identical confusion, probably because his contract stipulated: “Mr. Lowe must be allowed to have relations with all primary females without repercussions.”

He sleeps with the cougar and later he sleeps with Lady Victoria and then he winds up with Rona in the end and presumably goes off to sleep with her with too, and without any of them being angry at him because in spite of all the cinematic tutoring on the importance of learning it's not all about you, the film is all about him.

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