Monday, 10 August 2009

The Graduate: Smart Comedy

I really didn’t want to give away any of the top numbers in Personal List of 100 Film You Should see. I mean, I already gave way my favourite over at that interview I had with Anahita, so that’s enough. But I saw this one last week and I just felt an immediate need to post a review and coincidentally it’s my fifth favourite film so I’m more inclined to post a review I suppose. So here it is, my take on Mike Nichols’ Oscar winning flick – The Graduate.

The Graduate is a 1967 comedy starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. Mike Nichols won an Oscar [his only] for directing it. When a disillusioned college graduate [Hoffman] comes home after graduating from school he finds himself complete discontented with the suburbs. He enters into a sexual relationship with Mrs Robinson [Bancroft] an older woman who just happens to be a neighbour of his parents. With this relationship Benjamin thinks he has finally found that elusive something that he has long been looking for…that extra addition to his life that not only makes him a man, but a complete human being. The relationship though is not a walk in the park and sometimes Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson [which he continues to call her] experience some fierce arguments, the last of which centres on Mrs. Robinson’s daughter a college student about Benjamin’s age. Mrs. Robinson forbids Benjamin to ever date her, something he had never thought about. As fate would have it though Benjamin eventually does go on a date with Elaine which severs the ties of the relationship and leads to much suspense and hilarity as Benjamin finds that he has found his true love in Elaine.

The plot for The Graduate does not really sell it well. If they wanted to, Lifetime could take it and turn it into sappy sob fest. But despite a plot that’s not exactly groundbreaking the script for The Graduate is on point. It’s one of the best comedy scripts I’ve ever read and it’s incredibly easy filled with some snappy dialogue. And even though it’s a comedy it’s not vacuous like the so many of the comedies we are privy to today. It’s a true testimony to a script [and a film] when it becomes a part of pop culture and the phrase Mrs. Robinson has become a staple in modern dialogue. I mean of course The Graduate was based on a book but it wasn’t the book that made every one know who Mrs. Robinson was…

With a good script, a good cast is essentially. Dustin Hoffman bears the brunt of the work since this is essentially HIS film. I know that this was quite early in his career; but for me this film represents the quintessential Dustin Hoffman. As Katharine Hepburn said all the right actors win Oscars but for the wrong roles. I don’t know if that’s right for everyone, but it’s true about Dustin. With all due respect Kramer vs Kramer was not a bad performance – he actually does some good stuff but it’s not that good. And as for Rain Man – I just hate it. Maybe it’s Tom Cruise, but I despise the film and am not a big fan of Hoffman in it. Hoffman was at his best in the sixties with this, Midnight Cowboy and the mid seventies All the President's Men he was just marvellous. Anne Bancroft was not throwaway either, she actually reminded me of another Ann [Anne Baxter in The Ten Commandments] with her vampish walk and her sultry voice. I’m not sure if I’d say she was robbed of the Oscar like so many are wont to say. I think Kate was the right person for it, and if not her I’d give the other Hepburn [Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark], but I digress. Anne Bancroft is marvellous in this, and although the second half of The Graduate is my favourite I kind of hate it that she’s off screen.

Her husband [Murray Hamilton] and Benjamin’s parents [William Daniels & Elizabeth Wilson] are also effective with little screen time, Hamilton has a biggish scene towards the end which he plays just right. I’ve always felt that Katharine Ross playing Elaine was at an inherent disadvantage. Mrs. Robinson is morally ambiguous, we cannot deny that, but she’s completely alluring and the audience is drawn to her. To an extent we’re already on her side and in the past I have judged her harshly. But watching it again last year I realised that she did give a good performance. It’s hard making good interesting on film and she does deserving that Oscar nomination. And at the end of the day you do root for her, you do want her to win,

I’ve always thought that it’s difficult saying so-and-so directing did a good job with that film but with The Graduate for some reason I can just felt that it was directed wonderfully. There was just the way some scenes were shot that had me enchanted including this famous one above. It was great to see Nichols get his due in a decade when so many good directors were snubbed [Kramer for Judgement at Nuremberg, Harvey for The Lion in Winter, Kazan without even a nomination for Splendor in the Grass].
The last sequence of The Graduate is so interesting and is open to much interpretation. Benjamin and Elaine escape the conformist and get on the bus, the adrenaline is pumping. Then they sit down at the back of the bus and they give each other a look. But what does that look say? This is fun. I love you. What the fuck did I just do? I don’t want anyone spoiling my happy ending so I’ll go with the second option but what’s interesting is no matter what it means it’s still a great film. And what’s more interesting is that this is my number nine and yet it’s not my favourite of the 60s. Imagine that.

7 comments:

Joe Shetina said...

Oh I love this film!

CS said...

This one is definitely a classic. While I actually enjoyed Rain Man I do agree with you that Hoffman’s earlier films (e.g. Straw Dogs, and the ones you mentioned) really showcase his immense talent. Similar to Pacino and De Niro, Hoffman’s latest films have been rather forgettable.

Encore Entertainment said...

Straw Dogs I've actually not seen CS. I wonder if I should check it out...

CS said...

You should definitely rent Straw Dogs if you get the chance. It is a distrubing, yet interesting, look at violence in society.

joe burns said...

I love it too!

Dan said...

Hoffman has given us a lot more range though - it isn't all hard man or parody of hard man like De Niro.

The Graduate is another of my all time favourites. Dustin Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his or any generation. His films span the genres, the characters span the various guises of humanity. He is a genius.

By the way, do check out Straw Dogs - it's another fine film and again shows Hoffman in a completely different light.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

dan almost a year and i still have not watched it...grrr, i have to re-review this again in the upcoming weeks, i wrote horribly back then


(i'm just a little psyched you're reading my archives.)