The Brendan Fraser Forgotten Comedy With A Mob Movie Star Deserves A New Generation Of Fans

By Brian Myers | Published

with honors

Joe Pesci’s name often conjures up images of a mafia madman or a burglar terrorizing little Kevin in Home Alone. But in 1994, Pesci starred in a film that reflected his broad range in what is one of the best performances of his career. Though the film With Honors is certainly one that has been overlooked in the last 30 years, it can be streamed for free and give it and Pesci a shot at the recognition that they deserve.

The Story

with honors

With Honors is the story of Monty Keller, a senior who is approaching his winter break at Harvard. He lives with three roommates, uptight Jeff (Josh Hamilton), his crush Courtney (Moira Kelly), and the suave disc jockey Everett (Patrick Dempsey). As he is rushing to the library one evening with his nearly completed thesis in hand, he trips and sees his document fall through a grating near the library.

The grating leads into the library’s boiler room, where a homeless man named Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci) is living unbeknownst to the University officials. Simon refuses to give the thesis back and begins burning it page by page, prompting Monty to get the police to arrest Simon for trespassing. Feeling somewhat sympathetic, Monty drops the charges in the courtroom and hopes that Simon will release the rest of the thesis to him.

The Hostage Thesis

with honors

Instead, With Honors sees Simon holding the thesis hostage and forces Monty to earn the pages back, one at a time, for every act of charity or giving the student does. Over the course of the film, Simon and Monty develop an eventual bond that is akin to father and son, with the homeless Simon helping mold Monty’s worldview. His thesis that once focused on how public assistance recipients are parasitic, takes a 180-degree turn as Monty is taught valuable life lessons away from Ivy League textbooks and lectures.

A Harvard Bum

The film has its comedic qualities, particularly with Simon Wilder’s wit. But as his character develops further, audiences begin to view a man who is highly intelligent and has a well-rounded education. As he points out in one scene, he’s a bum, but “A Harvard bum.”

Reviews Weren’t Great

With Honors wasn’t the most critically acclaimed film of 1994. In fact, the reviews were mixed at best and reflected the substandard performance the film experienced at the box office. Even today, the film has a mere 19 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes across 26 critics, showing that modern audiences aren’t appreciative of the film, either.

With Honors serves more of a piece of 90s nostalgia frozen in time than it does as a contribution to cinematic greatness. The soundtrack (with great cuts from The Cult, Madonna, Mudhoney, Pretenders, Candlebox, and Duran Duran) resonated well with those who grew up in the era and is an eclectic pop selection that would give younger audiences a feel for that decade’s early college vibes. It’s a film worth visiting if, for any reason, to experience an authentic moment in time that current films that revisit the decade fail to capture.

Stream It Now


With Honors is seeing Joe Pesci in a peak performance, a film that shows the actor’s versatility and that he is more than just a violent and temperamental mob character like he was cast in Goodfellas and Casino. Brendan Fraser is cast in a more serious role than his previous parts in Encino Man and Airheads, reminiscent of how well he commanded screen presence in the film School Ties. The supporting cast was just as endearing, Patrick Dempsey and Josh Hamilton standing out in particular in roles that remind many audiences of roommates they certainly encountered in a distant past.

With Honors deserves high praise for its sympathetic characters and ability to develop into an accurate 90s-time capsule. The plotline is cliched and predictable, but overall it still makes for an enjoyable film. The movie has certainly stood the test of time and is a 2.5/5.0-star film.

You can stream With Honors for free with Roku and Kanopy, or rent it On Demand with Vudu, Google Play, AppleTV, and Prime.