I remember the book being far better than the film, though I remember the film playing on cable a lot when I was younger and I do recall connecting with the film a great deal. What exactly I was connecting with is subject to great scrutiny. Today, I am amazed at how sloppily this film is thrown together.
At its best, The Chocolate War offers up strange, brief moments of surreal visuals and editing. Few and far between these bursts comes more as shocking mis-steps than a motif. Often exposition is interjected into the film immediately before the information is needed to help further the plot. Like a second thought or a last minute reminder, these moments of unloaded information halt whatever dramatic tension might be rising.
A horribly scattered film. At its worst, the film plays like Catcher in the Rye meets just about any 80′s teen drama, or even worse, an after school special. The Chocolate War employees a variety of approaches and techniques, never settling on one and leaving me to wonder if the filmmakers were not desperately changing their minds as the film was being made. The only solid decision appears to be that of having Yaz on the soundtrack.
High schools inevitably lend themselves to stories about power and the struggle for it or from underneath it. The Chocolate War is no exception. Like so many of these films The Chocolate War focuses on a sympathetic everyman, the person we’d like to think we are/were. Jerry Renault is not cool like Ferris Bueller or the tough like the Karate Kid, Jerry is simpler, more timid and perhaps less memorable. Still, he is the American self-made man, the rugged individual, caught between two brands of fascism – bullies and the school’s headmaster – both wanting Jerry to conform.
Of course, Jerry does what we’d all do, he fights the good fight. He stays true to himself, as we all did in high school, right? Compared to other 80′s teenage film characters Jerry is perhaps more true to real life. Though, this may be a fault. Real life and teen movies are best kept apart. No one wants to remember their teenage years as they actually were; awkward, manic, depressive, and far less important than we made them out to be. No, we prefer to remember high school as we wish it were and movies about teenagers, usually written by men in their 30′s or older, are often just fond remembrances or fantasy wish-fulfilment.
The Chocolate War falls into the latter category. Just how many teenagers ever really fought the system, let alone the bullies and the system? Not everyone is a Holden Caufield. Even if they think the know the phonies from the rest.