Thursday, May 26, 2011

"The Graduate" a comedy that actually makes you laugh

TITLE: "The Graduate"
DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols
STARS: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
EDITOR: Sam O'Steen
AWARDS: Best Director (Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $104,397,102 
RUN TIME: 106 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: Netflix Streaming

"The Graduate" is a humble film revolving around the romantic affairs of Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), who has just returned home to LA after graduating from college. Poor Ben doesn't know what to do with his life, and is fearful of his future. Family friend, and seductress, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) spares no time in making herself available to Ben in a purely physical fashion. What will Ben do with this new-found attention? Will it help his plans for the future, or will it disrupt his entire life? And what will happen when Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) returns home from school for the summer?

This film is considered to be a "classic" of cinema for many reasons. It was nominated for 7 Oscars, 7 BAFTA's, 7 Golden Globes, and 1 Grammy. It won at least 1 award at every one of those ceremonies. Why all the attention?

This was the first lead role for, the little known, Dustin Hoffman. He took critics and audiences by surprise. A relative unknown who, arguably, outshone the great Anne Bancroft onscreen. Bancroft was well known for her many film roles by 1967, having already won an Oscar for her immortal role as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker" (1962). She was also the wife of Mel Brooks, who had cast Hoffman in "The Producers" (1968), but let him leave the production for his role in "The Graduate."

Both Hoffman and Bancroft received numerous awards consideration for their roles, as well as Katharine Ross. It is funny then, that the two leads were not the actors originally intended for the parts. Mike Nichols had looked at Doris Day and Patricia Neal for the role of Mrs. Robinson, Robert Redford for Ben, and Gene Hackman (Hoffman's former roommate) for Mr. Robinson. The actors passed on the roles for different reasons, though Redford was actually turned down for the role. Nichols thought he didn't possess the underdog qualities he had envisioned for the role. When Redford asked what he meant, Nichols responded, "'Have you ever struck out with a girl?' 'What do you mean?' asked Redford. 'That's precisely my point,' said Nichols" <>.

Nichols was a young director at this point in his career, his only previous effort being "Who'd Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). That film turned out to be a major success though, garnering 5 Oscars of its own. He still had to deal with producers and studio executives though. He had to make a deal with the producers of the film to keep the, now iconic, soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel. He had to give up his actress of choice for the role of Mrs. Robinson, the French actress, Jeanne Moreau, in order to keep his soundtrack in tact. Who knows what the film would have been like. Bancroft gave the most popular performance of her career, and created a sex icon for generations to come.

"The Graduate" has many good things that add up to a good movie. Right off the bat, the soundtrack is unforgettable. The songs by Simon and Garfunkel are now iconic. They gave a beautiful pop/folk sound to the film that made it feel all the more realistic.

The performances are spot on. Nichols directed his three leads to an Oscar nomination each. His supporting cast, featuring William Daniels (Mr. Feeny) of "Boy Meets World" fame, continued the excellence present in the performances of the leads.

The cinematography, while fitting for the story, falls into cliche today. Many zooms and camera moves remind us this film was made in the 1960's. The story takes place in the 60's though, so I don't feel that a few cliche camera tricks really detract from it.

The best part of this film is this: it is actually funny. I was not laughing consistently throughout, but Hoffman's portrayal of Ben leaves every scene with an air of humor, even when there is a serious tone. Many comedies fall short, and don't keep the audience smiling until the end. "The Graduate" does not fail, and continues to provide laughs and humor until the final frame. This is the film's strongest point. As a comedy, it completely succeeds. As a character drama, it lacks some believability, but I still found myself rooting for Ben.

I would highly suggest this movie. It has aged, and perhaps not gracefully, but it is still funny, and worth watching for anyone looking for a short escape from the real world.

MY IMDb RATING: 7 out of 10

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