Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Graduate

The Graduate is a film with a tremendous concept. A young man comes home from college, has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, gets pressured into a date with her daughter, and winds up falling in love with the daughter causing massive amounts of turmoil for all parties involved. Mike Nichols, following up his outstanding work on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, gave us a classic film that offers moments of hilarity and poignancy while capturing a time, place, and attitude that totally resonated with the baby boomer generation.

Benjamin Braddock is an interesting character. He was a successful scholar and athlete at college and is now sitting on the cusp of his adult life. His parents expect him to go on to graduate school and a career that is probably very similar to the path his father chose, but Ben doesn’t know what he wants and he really doesn’t want to discuss it. His parents throw a party celebrating his graduation and he wants nothing more than to get the hell away from everyone and their prying questions. 

This is where Mrs. Robinson comes into the picture.

Ah, Mrs. Robinson. The original cougar. The siren of Simon’s song. Her seduction of innocent young Benjamin ranks among the funniest moments of the 60’s as she stands before him in the full glory of her nakedness and poor Ben looks like he’s ready to jump out of his own skin.

The affair begins awkwardly and soon Ben becomes frustrated by the lack of communication in the relationship. In an attempt to have a conversation, Ben discovers that while Mrs. Robinson enjoys Ben she does not consider him good enough to associate with her daughter Elaine. This offends Ben quite a bit, not enough for him to stop shtupping her, but he’s offended nonetheless.

After a great deal of parental pressure to do something other than float in the pool all day and go off with you-know-who all evening, he agrees to a date with Elaine Robinson to everyone’s delight except for Elaine’s mother. 

I’m still not sure if she’s mad because she actually believes Ben will corrupt her daughter or if she’s just jealous that her daughter might steal her boy toy. Ben’s solution to his problem seems simple at first: be an asshole and she’ll never want to see me again. So, he takes Elaine to a strip joint (or at least what passed for a strip joint in 1967) and grabs a table in front of the stage. As the stripper spins her tassels right above Elaine’s head, the humiliated Elaine begins to cry. 

Was that the moment where Ben fell for her? In the aftermath of all that emotion, they had quite a nice evening, eventually ending up at the very hotel where the affair had been transpiring. When the entire staff of the hotel recognizes Ben as Mr. Gladstone, Elaine knows something is up and Ben admits to having an affair and insists that it’s over without revealing who the affair is with.

When Ben shows up at the Robinson’s to pick up Elaine the next day, Mrs. Robinson gets into his car and threatens to reveal everything to Elaine if he doesn’t leave. Feeling that he has to tell Elaine the truth first, he sprints through the downpour and, in a classic scene, all is revealed.

After some time passes, Ben decides that he loves Elaine and he must marry her. So, he heads off to Berkeley to do some serious stalking. At first, she was upset to see him because her mother’s story was that Ben had raped her while she was drunk, but after Ben tells her what actually happened, she begins to regain her earlier attraction to him.

Ben begins trying to convince Elaine to marry him, but she already said maybe to another suitor. Besides that, the fact that Elaine’s parents now hate Ben leads her to believe that a marriage simply wouldn’t work. After a confrontation between Ben and Mr. Robinson, Elaine is convinced to leave Berkeley and marry the other guy. This begins Ben’s epic sprint from Berkeley back to Pasadena back to Berkeley and then to Santa Barbara, a total journey of about 1075 miles or so. So, it’s no wonder he ran out of gas.

He finally gets to the church just as the preacher closes his book and the bride and groom kiss. Too late? As it turns out, no. Ben bangs on the upstairs glass shouting her name. All heads turn and as Elaine sees her parents and her groom furious over the intrusion; she decides to do what she wants to do and takes off after Ben. He has to fight his way out even using a giant cross as a club and later as a bar on the door. They run from the church, jump on a bus, and head out for their next chapter.

Normally, I don’t do a full recap, but I truly love this film. The Academy loved it as well. The film was nominated for seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman, Best Actress for Anne Bancroft, Best Supporting Actress for Katherine Ross, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The only win was for Mike Nichols for Best Director.

Before I get into my list of Oscar considerations, I have to make special mention of the magnificent soundtrack. I could not imagine this film without the music of Simon and Garfunkel. It was a perfect fusion of pop music and cinema. The song “Mrs. Robinson” went on to win a Record of the Year Grammy.

I will be considering the following performances when I make my Oscar picks…

For Best Actor, Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock. Oscar-nominated for his second movie, Dustin hit the jackpot with this role. Originally intended for a Robert Redford type, Mike Nichols took a chance on Dustin after seeing him in a play in New York. He was so blown away by the screen test that he committed to him right away. His panic, especially his occasional high-pitched whimper, was hysterical. The scene with the naked Mrs. Robinson, his awkward interaction with Buck Henry at the hotel, and his fumbling about in the hotel room are all classic comedy scenes. This performance has a very good chance at making my final five.     

For Best Actress, Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. This was Anne’s third Oscar nomination. She won the Oscar for 1962’s The Miracle Worker. The seduction scene at the bar has become iconic and is probably the most well known scene of the movie and she was very sexy. As I said before, this was the original cougar. Did you know she was married to Mel Brooks at the time she played Mrs. Robinson? Lucky Mel. I was particularly taken with the scene where Ben tries to engage her in conversation. As his questions cut too close to the genuine regrets she has about her life, you can see it in her eyes when she begins to break. It was a tremendous performance from a great actress.   

For Best Supporting Actress, Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson. Katharine Ross was really beautiful in this film. She had that girl next door beauty that was so easy to fall in love with. I was impressed with her portrayal, at once headstrong and vulnerable. She made it very easy for the audience to see her through Benjamin’s eyes.  

For Best Supporting Actor I’ll be considering four names.

William Daniels as Mr. Braddock, Ben’s father. He is probably most well known for playing Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere. I enjoyed his somewhat over-the-top depiction of a successful suburban family man of the sixties.

Murray Hamilton as Mr. Robinson. He went from telling Ben to sow a few wild oats to calling him a degenerate in no time at all. His unusual performance in Ben’s room at Berkeley gets him this consideration.

Buck Henry as the hotel desk clerk. Buck was nominated along with Calder Willingham for writing the screenplay. He also played the hotel desk clerk who made Ben so nervous in the hotel lobby scene. It was hilarious and gets him on the list.

Norman Fell as Mr. McCleery, Ben’s landlord in Berkeley. Come on! It’s Mr. Roper! He’s even a landlord! How cool is that? I love Norman Fell. He’s the man and he’s definitely on my list.
                                                         Hey, it's Richard Dreyfuss!

The Graduate is a fantastic movie. It will almost certainly be on my top ten list for the year.

Thank you for your interest.

Comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.