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The Preppie Connection (2015)

IFC Films
DVD Released: 7/12/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/4/2016

"Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" may have been a television show which turned into a cliche, but it's also something with which many people are obsessed. I'm not going to give any undo publicity to the shows (because I think that the whole thing is ridiculous), but there are plenty of "reality" shows today which turn the camera on undeservedly rich people so that middle-America can witness their vapid lives. What creates this desire? Is it simply jealousy? Is it the excitement of vicariously indulging in a world where one can buy anything which they want and travel anywhere they please? Of course, this fascination occurs in movies as well, as there have been plenty of films in which a "commoner" was able to break through into the world of the wealthy. Based on a true story, The Preppie Connection takes a look at the dark side of this journey.

It's 1984 and Tobias Hammel (Thomas Mann) has learned that he's been awarded a scholarship to the prestigious private school in his hometown. His parents are thrilled at this opportunity, but Tobias is intimidated by the idea, so much so that he flees campus on his first day. But, he goes back and immediately realizes that he does not fit in with the privileged, spoiled, and apathetic teenagers who inhabit the school. Tobias makes friends with a foreign student, Fidel (Guillermo Arribas), and he finds himself drawn to a group of preppies -- Ellis (Logan Huffman), Ben (Robert Gorrie), and Laura (Jessica Rothe) -- mostly because he wants to spend time with Alexis (Lucy Frye). This group loves drugs and Tobias realizes that the best way for him to fit in is to get drugs for them. He goes from scoring marijuana in town to flying overseas to get cocaine. While Tobias is risking his freedom, his scholarship, and his life, the high of being accepted by the rich kids is worth it.

As with seemingly every movie made today, The Preppie Connection is based on a true story. True stories can be intriguing, but let's be honest, they aren't all created equal. Some are moving and some are "important", but the best ones show stories which we would assume were fiction if we hadn't been told otherwise. We don't want a movie to hold a mirror up to society. We want to see something freaky or weird that we don't see everyday. Sure, inspiring movies are great and all, but we want to see something which makes us say, "that didn't happen".

To an extent, The Preppie Connection meets that criteria. The movie's intrigue lies in the way in which it combines worlds that we have seen before. We've seen movies about spoiled, privileged kids and we've seen movies about drug dealers, but it's rare to have to two combined. This isn't exactly Cruel Intentions meets Scarface, but one could certainly draw a line to those movies. The other thing which draws us into the movie is that we can identify with Tobias. The opportunity to attend the private school is a great opportunity for him, but he immediately feels out of place. And yet, there is a drive to be accepted and this not only leads him to compromise his principles, but to commit major crimes as well. Any film like this is going to lead the viewer to moral questions and we must ask, how far would we go if we were in Tobias' position?

However, this also leads us to the film's on shortcoming. As Tobias' behavior becomes more and more risky, we can't help but think, "It it really worth it?" His affection for Alexis appears to be unrequited and Ellis is a truly repugnant person. Should he be risking his life for this? But, we must remember, this is based on fact. While some of the incidentals were changed, the real life character really did travel to South America and tangle with drug dealers. The Preppie Connection isn't perfect, but it is certainly one of those biopics which offers a story which shows us something somewhat familiar and then adds enough ingredients to hold our interest. The private school setting may be different from our everyday lives and the international drug smuggling is hopefully something that you don't do on a regular basis, but the fact that this actually happened makes The Preppie Connection worth seeing.

The Preppie Connection does embellish Tobias' final score on DVD courtesy of IFC Films. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVS. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. We do get some mild ringing effects around the actors. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is somewhat soft at times, but not distractingly so, and the depth is average. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The 80s rock music used in the film sounds good and delivers good stereo. The plane sound effects and an action sequence provide adequate stereo and surround effects, with some very mild subwoofer presence.

The Preppie Connection DVD contains only two extra features. "Behind the Scenes" (4 minutes) is a brief featurette which is comprised of snippets of interviews with the cast and some on-set footage. It's also accompanied by a song which came out about three years after the events portrayed in the film, which is odd. This doesn't contain any information or insight into the true story. The only other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long