Call them "cult classics." "Guilty pleasures." "Comfort movies." We all have a mental rolodex of flicks that may not be terribly popular but, for one reason or another, they resonate in a very special way. Maybe you saw it at the right moment. Maybe you just see gold where everyone else sees feces. Whatever the case, these are the special favorites that you keep stashed away for sick days. Here are some of ours.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that 1999 was a definite turning point in cultural history. The music of '99 was truly excellent (the entire year was soundtracked by TLC's "No Scrubs," Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba," 702's "Where My Girls At?" and Rage Against the Machine's "Guerilla Radio"), television saw the beginning of its new golden age ("The Sopranos," "Futurama," "SpongeBob Squarepants," "Angel," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "The West Wing" and "WWF Smackdown!" all debuted that year) and it's one of the greatest film years of the modern era ("Fight Club," "Magnolia," "Being John Malkovich," "The Sixth Sense," "The Matrix," "Toy Story 2," "Go" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" all came out, just to name a few).
As a result, most of my movie nostalgia is tied to 1999. I wasn't doing anything particularly interesting (outside of taking voice lessons and buying Silkk the Shocker albums), but the culture was so good that I didn't notice anything else. So whenever the sniffles attack, I don't turn to a warm blanket movie from my childhood. Rather, I turn to my very favorite movie from my very favorite year. That's why I always watch "Varsity Blues."
Why "Varsity Blues"? I can barely count the number of different ways this movie delights me. First and foremost, it's got a really simple premise: Backup high school quarterback who would rather be a poet gets thrust into the starting role and is forced to care about football. Along the way, he gets seduced, is given free beer and faces nonsensical threats from his scenery-chewing coach. If that doesn't sound like much of a plot, then you're right — the movie just sort of coasts by on a bed of faux-Texas charm without much conflict.
But that's sort of the point, because it provides a mostly blank canvas for a handful of amazing set pieces and performances. James Van Der Beek (The Dawson himself!) plays the poet-quarterback, Jonathan "Mox" Moxon. Van Der Beek was the hottest he ever was when "Varsity Blues" got made, as "Dawson's Creek" was a total television juggernaut. He has a terrible Texas accent and a bad dye job in his hair, but it doesn't matter, because he's got charm to spare.
Also, he makes a perfect foil for the aforementioned coach, played by Jon Voight. Voight turns in one of the nuttiest, most nonsensical, accidentally hilarious performances in the history of cinema. It doesn't quite live up to his feverish, lizard-like performance in "Anaconda," but it's awfully close. I'm not sure where his accent is from (Ecuador, maybe?), but it's exactly the sort of voice you need when you yell "I'll f--- with your transcripts!" as a threat to Mox.
Watching Van Der Beek and Voight go head-to-head is incentive enough, but there are plenty of other bits of awesomeness in "Varsity Blues." The most iconic image is probably the whipped cream bikini that Ali Larter wears to try to seduce Mox. For my money though, the key sequence is the strip club portion of the film. Mox and the rest of his horribly-nicknamed friends hit up a nudie bar and, while drinking gallon after gallon of watermelon-flavored gin, they realize that the dancer they are most into is one of their teachers. It's every high school kid's fantasy (sorta) and it makes absolutely no sense.
But who needs sense? The questions that "Varsity Blues" raises are numerous, and contemplating them always helps with the healing process. Why does Mox’s brother keep test-driving new religions? How did Mox get a scholarship to a school that doesn’t offer scholarships? Why do most of the women disappear for most of the middle part of the film? Why is Billy Bob’s concussion such a massive plot point? How come Tweeder doesn’t get arrested after he steals a police car and then clearly sexually assaults three underage women?
The answer to all these questions is simply “Varsity Blues.” It doesn't use a whole lot of logic, but it does pack all sorts of style and slickness, and lets an eclectic cast get wild and stupid for 90 minutes. Tune in for Van Der Beek's faux-Texas drawl (especially during the scene where he argues with his dad — the line is "I don't want your life!" but it comes out "Aaah don't wahhhn yer laahf!") and get Voight's scenery chewing and some so-goofy-it's-transcendent dialogue absolutely free!