A Student Faces Two Tests in "The Paper Chase"

Title: The Paper Chase
Director: James Bridges
Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, John Houseman
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Genre(s): Comedy
Rated: PG

Although most of us would like to think that we are starting to get a grasp of our lives by the time we enter college, the reality is that even if we get into the college of our dreams, pursue the education that we want, and even have our life planned out to a T, we still ultimately may have complications in our lives that we can’t prepare for. Take for example the life of first year law school student James T. Hart (Timothy Bottoms): Here is a man who by all accounts has the perfect trajectory we all wish we had when he was his age.

He knows that he wants to be a lawyer. He has been accepted into Harvard Law School. He even is falling in love with a beautiful woman he may end up marrying some day. He seems to have just one major problem: Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. (John Houseman), the hard nosed teacher who is teaching James class. This is the man who can give James a failing grade and derail all those plans, and he seems damn proud of having that position of power. He walks into the classroom holding the posture of both a general and intellectual; secretly happy to give orders while simultaneously looking down on the students he is tasked to guide.

For him, Harvard isn’t here to mold minds and prepare you for the future: YOU are here to prove YOUR worth to Harvard (and by extension him)! And if you don’t like it he will give you a dime and encourage you to call your parents to pick you up. Professor Kingsfield truly has no time for excuses or those who don’t have things figured out by now. This is bad news for James, who could be a great lawyer if he can get that last bit of polish. However, there is a second obstacle Professor Kingsfield provides: He is the father of Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner), whom James is currently pursuing a relationship with.

Though the professor seems oblivious to this fact (he can barely be bothered to remember his own students names), this adds pressure to James to overperform and ensure he becomes the man he has set himself up to be. “The Paper Chase” is a movie that sounds like it will be weightier than it is, yet the reason it works is because it’s actually a down-to-Earth comedy. It’s not the sort of movie that delivers huge laughs, but it is one where the problems of the main protagonist are largely there of his own making. While Professor Kingsfield might expect much from his students, the reality is James is perfectly capable of meeting those requirements.

Sure, it’s not a GREAT idea to be dating the daughter of your professor, but it’s not like daddy even seems to have noticed in the first place! We as the viewer, therefore, can easily see that this relationship will be perfectly fine if James doesn’t let this idea bother him to the point of self sabotage. This may be a situation where the supporting characters drive the story more than the main character, yet we still root for James to ultimately pull it off and get the girl at the end. Though “The Paper Chase” is somewhere in between being a serious drama and a romantic comedy, the mix-up results in a perfectly enjoyable film that leaves you with all kinds of smiles by the end.