Follow TV Tropes


Film / With Honors

Go To
"If you want a degree go to Harvard. If you want an education...go to Simon Wilder (far left)."

"I'm a bum. But bear in mind that I'm a Harvard bum."
Simon Wilder

With Honors is a 1994 dramedy film directed by Alek Keshishian, starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser.

Fraser portrays Montgomery Kessler, an honors Government senior at Harvard University and pet pupil of the harsh Professor Pitkannen (Gore Vidal). Monty's rooms in a house with Courtney (Moira Kelly), an art student; Everett (Patrick Dempsey), a college radio DJ and legacy student; and Jeff (Josh Hamilton), a neurotic pre-med student. After his computer crashes, Monty loses the only paper copy of his thesis in a library boiler room. Attempting to retrieve it, he comes across Simon B. Wilder (Pesci), a homeless man who is living in the boiler room and burning the thesis. Simon extorts food and new underwear from Monty in exchange for pages of his thesis, but Monty instead calls security and has Simon arrested. In order to get his thesis back, Monty puts Simon up in a broken-down van in his backyard.


The film sees Monty become less cynical and ending up caring deeply for Simon, who, in turn, gives him advice on life, his thesis, and love while discussing his own failures.

This film contains examples of

  • Aesop Collateral Damage: Monty finally comes around to bring Simon into his life, but only after he rejects him several times and Simon's asbetosis hits the final stages.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Simon, who survives long enough for all four roommates to take turns reading from Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "What do you see when you look at me?"
  • Asshole Victim:
    • While the loss of his thesis is devastating for Monty's sanity and education, he would have gotten it back much sooner and easier had he not been such a jackass to Simon. On the other hand, Simon was also quite rude to Monty as well, essentially holding his graduation hostage and calling him a loser.
    • Advertisement:
    • Jeff — he’s the Butt-Monkey of the group, but his attitude makes this feel deserved.
    • Simon’s fear that his son will view him as this prevents him from revealing his homelessness and his imminent death.
  • Award-Bait Song: I'll Remember by Madonna. It got Grammy and Golden Globe nominations.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Monty and Courtney snipe at each other throughout the movie. Until they finally hook up at the end.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Monty is happy and dating Courtney and Jeff has lightened up but Simon died.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jeff. He is the constant butt of his roommate’s jokes. He is over-ruled about Simon living in the house. Monty chooses to invite Simon to the pajama party over him, though Courtney agrees to take him at the last minute. Finally, he barely gets mentioned in Simon’s eulogy, and then only for flushing the toilet.
  • Cargo Envy: Courtney calls Monty into the bathroom to talk to him while she is in the shower and shaving her legs (we can partly see her through the shower curtain). Though his back is turned he can't resist checking her out in the mirror, and after leaving he remarks "Never wanted to be a razor so bad in my life."
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Monty watching Courtney in the mirror as she showers. But only because he's in love with her.
  • Cool Old Guy: Simon is 50 and a homeless philosopher and so rumbles into Old Master territory. Unfortunately for Monty, he is also very much a Grumpy Old Man.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Simon and Everett switch between this and Large Ham.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Simon's son flat-out rejecting him and telling Simon's granddaughter that Simon is no one. The look on Simon's face is just utterly heartbreaking.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Simon quotes this while selling newspapers taken from a vending box. Bonus points for the operator of a news stand nearby staring at him incredulously.
  • Fanservice: Fraser looking his young best in tight shirts, boxer briefs, and a nude butt shot. Also Moira Kelly in her lingerie at the Links party.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Five, actually. Monty (the Cynic), Courtney (the Optimist), Simon (the Realist), Everett (the Apathetic), and Jeff (the Conflicted).
  • Heroic BSoD: Monty when his hard drive crashes, followed up with a Big "NO!".
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Simon the homeless man calling Monty the summa cum laude Harvard student a loser. Turns out Simon is merely relying on Insistent Terminology.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: Simon urges Monty to make a move on Courtney. When he kisses her and she asks what he's doing, he declares, "I'm ending our friendship."
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Jeff is annoying as hell, but he's not unreasonable about not wanting a homeless person that they know nothing about to live with him. For all they knew, the guy could have been a criminal or a lunatic.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Monty and Simon. Even Jeff comes around eventually (and with a little help from French toast).
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: After Monty won't stand up to Jeff's refusal to let Simon sleep in the basement and lies to Simon about it, Simon leaves without leaving the thesis.
  • Prepositions Are Not to End Sentences With: Simon, in disgust with Pitkannen, asks which door he can leave from. Pitkannen cites the trope as a rule of Harvard's; Simon snarkly tacks "asshole" onto the end of his question in response.
  • Running Gag: Simon is continually called "Whitman's ghost". To the point that the four take turns reading from Leaves of Grass as Simon lays dying in bed.
  • Smug Snake: Professor Pitkannen (Gore Vidal).
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Simon completely upbraids Prof. Pitkannen and gives a thoroughly eloquent speech about the US President. Everett even describes him later as "the slayer of the dragon Pitkannen".
  • Watching the Reflection Undress: Courtney calls Monty into the bathroom to talk to him while she is in the shower and shaving her legs (we can partly see her through the shower curtain). Though his back is turned he can't resist checking her out in the mirror, and after leaving he remarks "Never wanted to be a razor so bad in my life."
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Simon, after leaving the four's company, returns the rest of Monty's thesis by way of another homeless man, who also has a message for Monty personally. Continuing the comparisons to Walt Whitman, it's a passage from "Song of Myself", which helps Monty escape Pitkannen's cynical mindset and completely rewrite his thesis based on his own ideals for government.
    "You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself."

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: