another in a long series of diversions

(I will probably get to another teacher movie tomorrow. But, today--the 30th anniversary of the release of Real Genius, I will be watching... well, Real Genius.)

Real Genius was #7 at the box office it's first weekend. Back to the Future was #1 in its sixth weekend. Summer Rental was #2. Pee Wee's Big Adventure (which I never saw in the theater) was #3. European Vacation was #4. Fright Night, which I would see when we rented it from the Wherehouse, was #5. Weird Science, which I wouldn't see until cable, was #6. Rounding out the top ten were Cocoon, Follow that Bird and Silverado. (Rambo: First Blood Part II was #13 in its 12th weekend, by the way.)

Now, that we've got box office out of the way--and let's not even mention how it was the first instance for me of the movie not including something that was in the trailer (Chris (Val Kilmer) floating in a lawn chair dangling from balloons outside a window) but not in the movie. Speaking of which, I saw the new Fantastic Four today also and that bit with the Thing dropping out of the helicopter onto a tank--not in the movie.

Two things: I love Real Genius. It's one of those movies my family watched often. The other thing: Fantastic Four is not as bad as I expected, given the negative reviews I was seeing online. It's a bit rushed, especially the third act, and it doesn't make much effort to have any fun. But, it's good enough, better than I remember the 2005 Fantastic Four being.

Real Genius has more realistic science, though. According to People, director Martha Coolidge did her homework. She researched the CIA and Caltech. "We brought in top-level consultants from the military, weapons development experts and universities," Coolidge said. "We researched Caltech and MIT and based most of the stories, and the visual depiction of the school on Caltech, particularly on Dabney Hall." Phyllis Rostykus, a big basis for the character of Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) wrote a piece for Slate for the 30th anniversary. She describes how she and two male classmates had dinner with Coolidge and producers of the film and she was wearing a sweater she had knit the night before (like Jordan knits a sweater overnight for Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) in the movie).

Despite the specificity of the sweater thing, Rostykus "think[s] of Jordan as the sum of all the stories about the women of Caltech at that time." She explains:

We each had our own quirks, but we shared a few characteristics: We were all smart. We not only kept up with the boys in our high schools--we surpassed all of them to get into a college with just 200 undergraduates per class. And here we were treated just like the guys.

She continues:

Once it got around that I was connected to the creation of Jordan, I started receiving thanks from women who had seen Real Genius. Jordan is an inspiration for them. She is smart, keeps up with the boys, doesn't conform to feminine stereotypes, rescues others, is nice, and still ends up as the romantic interest.

I know that at the time--I was nine, mind you, when the movie came out so this might something that came up when I was a teenager and we were watching it on video--I thought Jordan was attractive; she's cute, she's smart, she's weird. That's an awesome combination. Rostykus continues:

All good things for the time, and a huge step up from when she wouldn't have been there at all (before 1970). Still, like me, she had to be more like the guys to be one of the guys...

To my knowledge, no one I worked with in engineering has ever questioned my abilities to do the work to my face. I don't recall anyone making a joke related to female engineers. or asking me to make the coffee. No one has ever said to me that girls can't do the math.

If only more girls weren't told that. Phyllis Rostykus, Jordan Cochran, Sue Storm--they were not told they couldn't (or shouldn't) do math or science. Rostykus continues:

I've been extremely lucky, and maybe I chose to ignore slights. But when I think about the real fights I have had over my decades in STEM careers, I can see why other women would quit.

Really, the key to this movie is not that Jordan matters just as much to the resolution of the story as Lazlo (Jon Gries), or that the science and setting were based in the real world; the key to this movie--unlike the new Fantastic Four--is that it's fun. Serious enough topic but plenty of room for jokes.


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