The Freshman ★★★★½

I haven’t seen enough of Harold Lloyd’s films to justify comparing him to his fellow silent comedy stars with any kind of authority, but I was fascinated by how his film The Freshman relies less on physical comedy or sight gags (though it has plenty of both) than on mining his character’s discomfort for laughs. His character, also named Harold, tries to fit in by trying out for the football team and hosting a school dance, with disastrous results; trying to imitate a collegiate “cool guy” he saw in a movie, he’s repeatedly reminded of how uncool his peers consider him to be. The scene where he attempts to endear himself to his fellow students by offering to buy everyone ice cream reminded me of Max Fischer’s cringe-inducing introduction to his new public school classmates seven decades later. Lloyd is one of the first onscreen comedians to mine laughs out of the gap between his character’s illusions of his own exceptional nature and the less impressive reality, and you can trace his influence on absurdly overconfident nebbishes in the years to come.

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