How have I not written up this movie before? Hell, I coulda prolly written it up cold, without a rewatch, but the rewatch this week made it required. Why is this movie such a big deal? Because it’s the one that most captures (not necessarily best captures) MIT. Yeah moreso than Good Will Hunting, which really only mentions it in passing. 21 actually got to shoot some scenes around campus, and it was about real life MIT kids. And it was filmed while I was in school there. Me and the bestie even went down to the casting office to try and get on as extras (word on the street was they were taking any MIT kids that came in) but we were too late and most shooting was wrapped.
21 is about some real life MIT kids who figured out a card counting scheme and took Vegas for all it was worth–on the weekends, when they weren’t in class. The events were written down in a book called Bringing Down the House. I never got around to reading it, but you couldn’t go more than a couple days on campus without seeing it in someone’s possessions. The movie heavily fictionalizes the story. Or at least I assume it’s heavily fictionalized, because my rewatch came off as really Hollywood-ized–contrived and over the top with drama.
Not long after graduating, I showed this at a movie night with my fellow Beavers (yes that’s MIT’s mascot). The game was “Take a drink every time there’s something wrong about MIT”. Things like how in the opening scene he rides his bike in one direction across the Mass Ave bridge, then rides it in the same direction across the BU bridge that runs parallel. Or how they keep referring to THE 2.09 (there’s no “the” when you mention course numbers), and treat it like it’s this big deal on campus (it’s not, and I kept thinking they meant 2.007 which is more of a competition), and they even have banners up advertising it (there never were). Oh and while exterior shots were on campus, all interiors were at BU.
Some stuff is right. The math prof is in building 2. The clothing store where our lead works really exists in nearby Harvard Square, and even had a movie poster in the window for years after. The little details that you’d have to have gone there to know are there, but the bigger details that everyone else will notice are mostly off. No matter. It’s still a fun game.
I remember really enjoying the thrill of the game before, but now as I’d said before, it does feel so overdone. Manufactured drama and extreme situations. I mean of course you gotta jazz things up, but it just feels so fake now. The cast doesn’t really help. Jim Sturgess is out of his depth. Kate Bosworth doesn’t sell the smarts. And Kevin Spacey has too much baggage to ever enjoy a film with him again. I do like Liza Lapira, and am always happy to see her pop up in other small roles.
So yeah, maybe other films capture the spirit of my alma matter better than this one. Hell, half of the movie takes place in a different state. But given that I was there when it came together, it’s the one that makes me most nostalgic for my old home.