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80s Odyssey: Private Lessons (1981) & My Tutor (1983)

May 16, 2011

Of all the 80s movies I’ve watched, Private Lessons has to be the strangest and most awkward. The premise starts off as you might think for this kind of thing: a rich guy goes on a business trip and leaves his son Phillip in the care of his sexy(ish) French nanny Nicole (played by Sylvia Kristel) and chauffeur Lester (WKRP In Cincinnati and That 70s Show‘s Howard Hesseman). While dad’s gone, Phillip falls for Nicole and a romance blossoms. Here’s the creepy thing though. Phillip is played by a kid who actually looks 15 instead of the usual 20-year-old-playing-high-school thing we’re used to. So, when it comes to the sex scene, it’s a little weird.

To make matters worse–and to damage this kid even more–SPOILER Nicole and Lester are in on a plot to steal a bunch of money from pops. To go about getting it, Nicole fakes her death while boning Phillip. Phillip freaks out, gets Lester and they bury her in the yard (but not really). Lester then fakes a blackmail note to get the money. Eventually, Nicole reveals herself to Phillip and they enlist a tennis instructor (played by a young Ed Bagley Jr.) to act as a cop and scare Lester.

Usually, with these kinds of movies, the director will cut away as the real down and dirty stuff approaches, but this time around they stay in the room and you get to see all the gory details. It’s the kind of thing I would have probably been blown away by had I seen it in my younger days, but it creeps me out now. Then, to make matters worse, she fakes her death. This poor kid is going to be scarred for a lifetime. Sure, he finds out it’s all a scam, but still. A lack of wacky music during some of the scenes makes everything seem a lot more real and creepy too. Sure, there’s a lot of music by pretty big deal artists like Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart, but they don’t do that usual movie trick of using music to tell us how to feel. Without it, you just feel however you feel and I felt a little creeped out.


My Tutor didn’t make any of the mistakes that Private Lessons did. They got a t00-old-for-high-school actor to play a recently graduated senior, they use music to tell us this is all in good fun and things never veer into creepy territory. This time around, Bobby has failed French, so his rich dad hires Terry a hot young thing who likes to go skinny dipping at night who also happens to be a French expert after studying there to tutor Bobby in the language so he can go to Yale or one of those other Ivy League schools. Meanwhile, Bobby doesn’t want to go there and has a real jones for astronomy. Oh, and his friends are obsessed with having sex, but Bobby’s not too worried about it (though he does go with them to a whore house). One of the great treats of this movie is watching Cripsin Glover as Jack, Bobby’s horny yet supremely weird and geeky friend. He threw in so many quirks to the performance that really elevated what would normally be a basic role.

Anyway, like I said, as far as tutor student fantasies go, this one’s got the goods, but I’m sure didn’t make any “best of” lists for the decade. There were some fun moments and aspects that I want to mention. That whole music thing I was talking about above? There’s a scene where Bobby chases off Terry’s ex with a gun and fires it in the air. Instead of letting what could be a fairly tense scene lie there like the Private Lessons folks would, they throw in some old timey piano rag to lighten the mood. This isn’t Heat, we need to keep things light, you know? Also, even though Bobby looks older, his voice comes off way younger than it should which is kind of funny. Finally, I got kind of a young Amy Poehler vibe from Terry in some of her looks and even her voice.

Aside from the obvious, there were some interesting similarities between the movies. For one thing, people could easily tell after the young men had had sex and it was mentioned that they looked older or different or what not. There were also lines in both movies about the boy offering the older woman a great reference for future tutoring jobs. I bet. Anyway, these are movies aimed at dudes, so my recommendation to the dudes out there is to skip Private Lessons and go for My Tutor, but if you’re intersted in both, I think they’re both still available on Netflix Instant.

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