Freshman Orientation—previously known as, ugh, Home of Phobia—is not trying to cop a feel from Pretty Persuasion and Art School Confidential. Ryan Shiraki’s comedy actually predates both, not that this IMDb-sparked revelation gives the film a pass for its arms-flailing sense of humor and method of social observation. “Your consent is my aphrodisiac,” says Clay Adams (Shia LeBeouf lookalike Sam Huntington) to some brace-faced chick in the front seat of his car who gives him a blowjob before barfing on his shirt, setting the predictable tone for the rest of the picture. In the “linguistic battlefield” of the classroom, the subject is history and herstory and the semiotics of gender warfare, and the landmines of ideological confrontation are busily planted everywhere, from LGBT meetings to a sorority hung up on political role reversal, and no one—regardless of sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation, or chromosomal deficiencies—is immune to the fallout.
Per her sorority’s man-destroying edicts, Amanda (Kaitlin Doubleday) reluctantly macks on Clay under the assumption he’s gay. Wanting to get her in the sack, he plays along, queering it up with the help of a barkeep played by John Goodman and doing so to such immaculate effect that he helps to yank his roommate Matt (Mike Erwin) right out of the closet. (Helping matters is Rachel Dratch as a sex-hungry lush who may or not be a student, though it seems unnecessarily cruel to prop the SNL comedienne as some sort of gay-straight litmus test.) Their mutual deceitfulness gives the film its edge—at least a sharper one than I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The material doesn’t belabor the idea that pretending to be queer makes Clay a more humane breeder; more interesting to the filmmakers is the idea of Amanda purposefully subscribing to the notion that men are meant to hurt her. Her relationship to Clay is a screenwriter’s contrivance, but it illuminates the bullshit that keeps men and women from expressing their true feelings.
Confession: Freshman Orientation takes me back to my freshman year at NYU (the straight-gay BFF-ery, roommates walking in on each other playing with themselves or someone else, poetry slams at the old Loeb student center, LGBT leaders taking advantage of their leadership positions to tap one’s ass). But the film’s nostalgia factor and occasional insights are ultimately less integral to its success than its belligerent, mostly obvious sense of humor. Consider, then, the two-star rating above an indication that the film’s Gut-Buster-to-Forehead-Slapper ratio is relatively even. For every scene of a black lesbian rising from her seat and silently growling “Hate crime!” as if she were a hound dog who’s caught the scent of an escaped criminal, or an old-school queen rasping, “Show me some respect, I was at Stonewall,” we must endure the sight of Goodman squealing, “Shut up, bitch!” and the onging retardation of Heather Matarazzo’s career.