The In Crowd

Director: Mark Rosenthal   
Donovan Leitch, Jennifer Runyon, Scott Plank

There are certain things in your past that you would rather forget, but have been so burned into you that these memories will remain with you to the day that you die. If you have been reading this web site for a while, you have probably correctly guessed that with me, some of these bothersome memories are movie-related, specifically awful movies. But I have some non-movie memories that every so often come up in my mind and bother me just as much. I have, for example, several childhood memories related to dancing that bother me. The first time was in kindergarten. I can remember one day my kindergarten getting me and the other kids to do a silly dance as the record player played, and then getting us to whoop and dance like Indians, something even at that age I thought was silly. (How times have changed. I'm sure in kindergartens today, when the subject of Indians is brought up, it's strictly to do with nobility and respect.) The second time was several years later, when I was graduating from elementary school. There was a party in the school gymnasium and all the kids were dancing. Though I joined into the dancing with enthusiasm, to this day I have a gut feeling my classmates were amused by my spastic movements that I thought were dance moves. Then in the three years I had in junior high school, a couple of weeks every year was devoted to dance instruction. What made it really bad was that the dances we were forced to learn were hopelessly outdated even back then. We were forced to learn "The Alley Cat" routine, as well as "The Hustle". Ow.

As you have probably concluded by what I just wrote, I don't have a very positive attitude towards dancing when it first enters my mind. But what about that certain something that goes with just about every dance, which is music? Well, I have to admit that while growing up, I didn't make as much of an effort to listen to the top music hits of the day as my peers did. In my early years, about the only music I listened to were mainly oldies on the radio my parents turned on during breakfast, and I remember even at that young age being very annoyed that the DJ on the radio station my parents tuned into was seemingly obsessed with the annoying ABBA song "Honey Honey". Possibly due to the fact that I never got into the habit of listening to current songs on the radio, I was not a collector of albums from the hottest musical performers when I reached my teens. The only musical artist that I collected as a teenager was Weird Al Yankovic - he seemed as much of an oddball as I felt I was at times, and there was the appeal of him poking fun at the musicians that my peers (who would have little to do with me) held sacred. As I left my teens, and progressed into adulthood, my musical taste and collection slowly expanded. There have been some oddball stuff that I have collected (like several CDs of spaghetti western music), but I have also gotten more mainstream material. In a used CD store a few years back, I found a number of Time Life CDs (the kind they hawk on informercials) at hard-to-beat prices, and it seemed like a good opportunity to bone up on music I missed hearing when growing up, either as oldies or "newies".

I have found that listening to these CDs, as well as when I get to listen to one of my city's oldies stations while at work, I enjoy music from all the past decades, at least the decades that had good old rock and roll in them. (Though I must confess that I am getting tired of the oldies station playing the same particular oldies songs over and over - as they said once on The Simpsons: "Why don't they play some new oldies?") I enjoy listening to '80s music (and I must add that another thing that bugs me about the oldies station I listen to is that the DJs never play Weird Al Yankovic. Though thanks to the dreaded Canadian content laws, they not only play plenty of awful Canadian songs, but the same particular awful Canadian songs over and over.) I also enjoy '70s music, even some of the disco songs of the era. There are even a lot of songs from the '50s that I like. But I must admit that I have a soft spot for music from the '60s, especially music from the later part of that decade. Although I said in the past that I was glad to be born too late to be a hippie, I will admit that hippies had particular good taste in music. So when the movie The In Crowd was scheduled to play on TV here, and I heard it was a youth movie set in the '60s, I jumped at the chance to watch it, even though I also heard there would be (ick) dancing in the movie. (At least the dancing wouldn't involve "The Hustle" or "The Alley Cat".) I knew there would be, at the very least, some good period music being played in it, maybe even some '60s classics that I had never heard before.

The place and time of The In Crowd is Philadelphia in 1965. The various events of the movie center around one of those local '60s after-school music/dance shows, the kind seen in both of the Hairspray movies. The show in this movie is Perry Parker's Dance Party, hosted by one Perry Parker (Joe Pantoliano, The Sopranos). One Philadephia teen, Del (Leitch, son of '60s singer Donovan), gets it in his mind to crash the show and appear as one of the show's dancers, much to the disapproval of his platonic friend Gail (Wendy Gazelle). Del not only gets on the show, Perry Parker pairs him up with Vicky (Runyon, Charles In Charge), one of the regular dancers on the show that Del had been mesmerized by. And when Del's appearance on the show generates a ton of fan mail, Parker is not only determined to keep Del on the show, but make a real couple of Del and Vicky. Yes, I am sure that you have seen some of the elements of this story in many other movies and TV shows. It may be a silly and familiar sounding story, but it does give the movie the excuse to do some very great things. The most obvious is with music. To put it bluntly, the music that's played in The In Crowd is fantastic! The movie is jammed-packed with some of the great hits of the '60s, songs like The Marvelettes' "When You're Young And In Love"... Tina Britt's "The Real Thing"... Wilson Pickett's "Land Of 1000 Dances"... The Majors' "Wonderful Dream"... and of course Dobie Grey's "The In Crowd". And it's not just the period music that's good. Composer Mark Snow contributes some instrumental snatches between the songs that not only has you humming, fits both the mood of the scenes and the period setting.

Not only is the music by itself great, but it adds to the scenes by showing us just how much joy, energy, and fun the characters are having onscreen. In the opening sequence, for example, the various teens shown getting out of school for the day and running around, playing pranks, and shaking to a beat are shown while Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music" plays. This scene is simply so fabulous to witness that I forgive the movie for playing a 1967 song for a movie that's set in 1965. In fact, all the dance scenes in and out of the TV studio are knockouts. It soon becomes clear that director Mark Rosenthal was on top of his game when he set to direct this movie (incredibly, as of this date this is the only movie he's ever directed.) He creates such an upbeat atmosphere that viewers will wish they could leap into the screen and join in. It's a world where bus drivers will leap from their buses and join in the dancing on the streets. And where romantic rivals will not duel with fists, but instead duel with dancing. And while this was a period of racial unrest, you wouldn't know it from this movie; blacks and whites are mixed together equally in this world, and there's no mention of race at any moment. There are also many little touches, like when Del high-fives a piano player he's passing backstage; unnecessary, but these moments stick in your mind. Rosenthal also co-wrote the screenplay, and just like with his direction he was no slouch. True, the basic story is kind of predictable, but there are a number of stops along the way that are very entertaining. There are some genuinely humorous moments, and they are moments that you can believe would happen at this time, to these characters.

Speaking of the characters, they have been written to be people who are very believable as well as likable in what they say or do, from the lead characters down to Del's stuffy English teacher. Del, for example, is a teenager who is not cool, and dreams of being cool. When he gets on the show, he is not suddenly confident and annoying, he still keeps to his values. When on his first date with Vicky, and after she comes back after abandoning him to meet up with her real boyfriend and asks Del later why he stayed, he says, "That's how I was brought up, not your friends." You might think that Vicky is revealed to be some kind of heartless snot, but that's not what happens. She turns out to have real feelings, and in the scene where her limited intellect is mocked by Del's friends, we can feel her pain. She is actually wise in ways Del isn't, and actually sees where the relationship with Del is going before Del does. I should also add that a large part of the believability of these characters goes to the cast. Leitch is convincing playing his average teenage character, and Runyon effortlessly makes the switches from spoiled teenager to someone with real feelings deep inside. However, it is Pantoliano who is the real star of this movie. His energetic, fun-loving attitude with just a little bit of secret selfishness deep inside performance is amazing. I truly think that if The In Crowd had gotten better distribution and publicity, he could have snagged a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Maybe also the movie would be better known and given a deserved DVD release instead of languishing on eBay and pawn shops on VHS. This movie isn't in the in crowd, but it deserves to be.

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See also: The Apple, Body Rock, Hot Summer