The Chocolate War (1988)

When I think about films and chocolate, the ones that immediately come to mind are “Like Water For Chocolate,” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I had not previously heard of The Chocolate War, but when I read the back of the DVD box, it definitely gelled with me: Catholic boy’s school, overbearing Brothers, nonconformist student swimming upstream. Hmmm. Well, it came out in 1988, a momentous time in my high school career, so I simply had to see this film.

The premise is that Brother Leon needs to raise some extra dough for the school that year. In a traditional Catholic capitalistic manner, he buys twice as many boxes of chocolate to sell compared to last year (leftover from last Mother’s Day, no less), and doubles the price per box. He then gives each student a quota of fifty boxes to sell, and uses more than gentle persuasion (he fails one student pending his improvement of sagging sales) to keep the lackluster sales going. He even turns to a secret society of the Vigils, some underground fraternity, to exert pressure on the other students to move the Godiva goods. The only thing is that one student takes a stand, and refuses to sell the boxes of confection- no matter how hard everyone pushes him.

Well, at my Catholic high school we didn’t sell chocolate, but we definitely sold yearbook ads, and collected canned goods. While we didn’t have an exact quota, I recall a poster up in the homeroom with all of our names on it, and they were clearly counting up the tally, so I can definitely relate to this. Thankfully, we didn’t have such a secret society as the Vigils. However, in one scene of the film, every time a Brother says a certain word, the class jumps up and makes noise. While we never did that in high school, there was one occasion where the class decided that every time the Brother turned around we would move our desks up by an inch. Slowly, but surely, like in a game of Space Invaders, by the end of the period the guys in the front row could touch the blackboard. Thankfully, the Brother thought this junior English prank had some merit, and got a laugh out of it too. It was kind of funny as it developed to see the Brother realize that something was going on, but not able to put his finger on it. Nowadays, this would probably end up on YouTube, but back then it was just a story to tell in the lunchroom.

Anyway, back to the film. The Chocolate Wars is an interesting look back at Catholic high school, and the peer pressure that can be exerted both by fellow students, as well as the teachers. The characters although stereotypical at times, do have enough development to feel like real folks. Supporting the drama is a now vintage 80’s soundtrack that brought back plenty of memories as well. If you wax nostalgically for the days of Pac Man, then The Chocolate Wars is for you.

Overall Grade: B+


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