Friday, 4 January 2013

The Graduate (1967)

It doesn't matter how many times it happens, I am still consistently amazed at my own ability to underestimate the sheer joy available from watching classic movies. I'd seen The Graduate before, many years ago, but lined it up for a rewatch without remembering just how great it was from start to finish and now a review seems pointless. Of course, I'm still going to try to do it justice but be prepared for something completely superfluous when coming along after the praise and respect that the film has already garnered over the years.

Dustin Hoffman, in a role that remains the one that defined his career, is Benjamin Braddock, a young man who has just returned home to very happy parents after graduating from college. Unfortunately, despite the good intentions and advice of everyone around him, Benjamin doesn't know what he wants to do next with his life. He's quite confused and things get more confusing for him when a family friend, Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), intimates her willingness to have an affair with him. It's definitely a fun way to kill some time but a major problem arises when Mrs Robinson's daughter (Elaine, played by Katharine Ross) comes home and Ben is asked by his parents to take her out on a date.

Perfect, just perfect. That's what The Graduate is to me. If you've not seen it in a long time then reacquaint yourself with it as soon as possible. If you've never seen the movie before then stop reading this review and get your hands on it right now.

Hoffman and Bancroft are just superb, whether they're stuck in solo contemplation, interacting with other people or sharing the screen together in the moments of their affair that mix humour with a certain eroticism. Katharine Ross is very sweet as a young woman unwittingly caught in the middle of a horrendous situation. William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson aren't onscreen for all that long but still do well as Benjamin's parents - proud of their son and showing him off to their friends and neighbours before trying to motivate him to start planning his future. Last, but by no means least, there's a great turn from Murray Hamilton AKA Mr. Robinson.

Of course, the cast get most of the praise (as well as Simon & Garfunkel, who provided the music that would make the soundtrack as perfect as any other aspect of the movie) but the people behind the camera deserve a fair few compliments too. The script by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry overflows with great lines and exchanges. Having said that, even the dialogue-free moments have plenty to "say" thanks to the direction of Mike Nichols. It's not always that subtle - Hoffman is often shown literally drifting through this time of his life - but every frame has plenty of information and detail in there, all conveyed through mise-en-scene. A better man could probably post a screenshot from every scene online and examine and dissect it to show the importance of almost every decision. I am not that man, you'll just have to trust me.

There's so much to say about The Graduate, including the way it hops around tonally without ever feeling inconsistent and messy, but I'll leave the longer essays to others with more time and intelligence at their disposal. I have to go and listen to some Simon & Garfunkel albums.


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