Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Graduate (1967)--Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft

Another classic film that would just not work in today's world...For those who have not seen the film, you likely imagine the work to be entirely about one younger man's affair with an older woman...
While Ben Braddock's (Dustin Hoffman) affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) does make up the majority of the storyline in the first 1/2 of the film, the second, and just as important 1/2 concerning Braddock's chase of Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross) is rarely mentioned.  An incomplete film without this second 1/2 its a shame that this section is so often overlooked due to the more notorious earlier parts.
A great transitional film showing the U.S. as it transitions from the more "innocent" 50's into the more "forward" late sixties and seventies, Ben Braddock, though younger, is more a product of his "helicopter" parents and the 50's he grew up in than the older and more sexually "progressive" Mrs. Robinson.  Some of the most cringe worthy and humorous scenes around are found herein as Braddock's overbearing, typically suburban parents treat him as a "showpiece" in attempting to show what a wonderful and successful child they have raised (making Ben come out at his 21st birthday party in a full scuba diving outfit comes to mind).
Ben and Mrs. Robinson are driven together as each tries to escape the roles they have been forced into--Ben fleeing from life as the son of a successful lawyer who is expected to follow in his father's footsteps and Mrs. Robinson from a loveless and sexless marriage to a man whom she "had" to marry while at college decades ago.  Though each provides the escape the other needs, their relationship is one of convenience and not love.  In fact when they try to actually talk to one another things become increasingly uncomfortable and untenable.
Though the film ends with Ben and Elaine together as the viewer is brought to want to happen, the audience is left questioning whether this will work out as they too are left in silence, unable/unwilling to talk to each other and avoiding eye contact.  They too seem to be merely trying to escape from their lives rather than being truly drawn to one another.
Hoffman here is your typical Hoffman with all the stuttering, stammering and deadpan dialogue that he has carried to other roles throughout his career (Rain Man anyone??) and though effective, I didn't find him enjoyable to watch.  Bancroft and Katherine Ross carry the film--one with her truly smokey sexuality and Ross with her apparent 50's innocence.  Mike Nichols who has gone on to create such garbage as "What Planet Are You From?" and "The Birdcage" (as well as well received films like "Silkwood", "Biloxi Blues" and "Charlie Wilson's War") likely had one of his best and certainly most famous creations early on here with a film that serves as treasure trove of quotable lines and famous camera shots.

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