Random Film Of The Week: The Graduate

(thanks, ryy79!) 

The Graduate MPIt’s actually quite funny, sitting and watching a favorite film with people who haven’t seen it before who initially end up not liking as much as you do. I’ve had this happen countless times, but I don’t think I’d ever had such an odd reaction from the last screening I did of The Graduate, Mike Nichols’ excellent, classic 1967 comedy/drama. What I saw (and still see) as one of the many films of that year that were minor to major revolutions in film making, my friend and his wife (who are a tiny bit younger than me) ended up being divided on a few fronts, making for an interesting discussion afterwards. I’d initially planned a straightforward review of the film, but watching these two people interact during and after the movie made me scrap that in favor of this article.

Is Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock merely a “spoiled rich kid, a stalker and a jerk!” or is he just “an elite everyman living a plastic life” like my friends debated (among other things)? If you look at the film with a modern eye, the answer is yes on both counts. However, that modern eye will miss a chunk of the film’s actual comedic value and even some of the most interesting elements of this classic. if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s this: spinning things into a too politically correct version of a movie that needs to be seen as a sign of the times it was made in isn’t always necessary, but it makes for some perky bits of conversation…

If you’re new to the film, here’s the basics (and some spoilers be ahead, arrrr!): Benjamin Braddock is a just graduated college student who flies home to his family’s lovely home for a bit of celebration and time off as he decides what he wants to do with his life. During the party, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s friend and business partner asks him for a lift home, and as he’s been avoiding people bugging him all evening, he willingly complies. When they arrive as the Robinson home she offers him a drink and tries to seduce Ben, who freaks out and makes good his escape as Mr. Robinson shows up. Ben ends up having that affair with her after all, but things come to a head when his clueless parents and an even more clueless Mr. Robinson suggest Ben start dating his daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross). Naturally, Mrs. R. flips her non-wig and issues a threat to spill the beans about their trysts, so Ben intentionally screws up his date, driving Elaine away. However, nature takes its course and after reestablishing trust with her, Ben and Elaine begin seeing each other…

I think it was at this point in the film when my friends started getting antsy, as one didn’t like how Mrs. Robinson was being treated and the other felt Ben was just being quite the jerk. The divide only got more interesting as the rest of the film played out, fluctuating back and forth between “sides”. I found it hilarious that neither person liked Ross’ performance much because I also hated her in the film the first time I saw it. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate her turn as Elaine, but to my pals, she was stuck up, whiny, screamy and like Ben, over-privileged and judgmental. Then again, this is before she finds out what’s been going on between Benjamin and her mother. The resulting breakup, Elaine fleeing to Berkeley, Ben’s stalking and eventual winning her back drew mixed reactions (mostly negative), but through all the fussing from the peanut gallery, I was having a blast introducing this film to friends who’d never seen it before.

 
The latter portion of the film drew the most surprising (but not at all unexpected) reactions as Elaine and Ben break up again after some drama with Mr. Robinson (who finally gets a clue thanks to is wife spilling the beans) and there’s a rather hurriedly planned wedding that needs crashing. I thought there would be a big split here down the middle, but at this point, my movie-mates were into the film wholly, hoping Ben would get there in time to either save the day or become the world’s biggest loser. Yeah, they were into the film now, but for opposite reasons. That was good enough for me, so I spent most of the time glancing sideways at their expressions as the film wound down.

The not unexpected surprise came at the very end in that beautiful shot on the bus. Ben and Elaine sit down and as we see the passengers on the bus gaping at them, first Ben, then Elaine’s expression change to the same “Well, that the hell do we do NOW?” look that would most likely happen in real life upon the realization that life isn’t as easy as crashing a wedding and whisking the bride away or being whisked away by a man that you broke up with twice because he lied to you from the beginning of your relationship. Yeah, that got a “Perfect!” from the couch-bound duo when all was said and done.

Our discussion ranged from the fantastic use of music (“I don’t even listen to that old stuff, but it’s SO catchy!” and “My mother had that record and played it ALL the time!”), the flawless hotel scenes where Ben first meets and continues to meet Mrs. Robinson, particularly Buck Henry’s great cameo that had us all laughing. As we discussed Ben’s privileged life (the scuba gear scene got a nice “Oh brother!”) and lazy nature, it was at least agreed that Ben’s parents were trying their best to make him happy and they were right to pressure him to get off his ass and do something other than tan and drink beer in the pool. Oh, he was doing something else, but I think they’d not have approved of his extracurricular activities with Mrs. R. (especially given her husband works with Ben’s father).

Both felt sorry for Mrs. Robinson because of her drinking problem and unwillingness to communicate with Ben, but as the film shows, even when prompted, the couple really has nothing to say to each other and no interests outside of their meetings at that hotel. Bancroft plays her as a wounded soul with basic needs she’s not getting from her husband, so she throws herself at Benjamin and it’s such an amazing scene when flustered by her stripping completely nude, he stumbles and bumbles out of the house, running into her husband in the process. “Hey, she’s NOT a bad-looking woman!” my friend noted, as his wife elbowed him in the ribs gently. She was a bit more cool to Mrs. Robinson’s antics at first, noting “Well, they DID have vibrators back then!”, and like it or not, folks… that always makes some guys’ eyes pop out of their heads and their ears catch fire.

after we guys found and resetour eyeballs, we spent about an hour chatting about the film noting silly stuff (“Quentin Tarantino REALLY should have had Hoffman glide by Pam Grier at the beginning of Jackie Brown”) and more interesting bits (guessing how much things like homes and cars cost back then was a fun game for about five or ten minutes). By the time I was ready to jet home, it was agreed that the movie was a great one after all because it generated some healthy discussion and was something they’d recommend to others they know who haven’t seen it.

Amusingly enough, I also found out as I was walking back to the subway with my friend that HIS father had owned an Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 Duetto like the one Hoffman drives in the film! He’d never told his wife this (yet) because his dad met her mother on a bad date (she got sick and threw up in the three-week old car on the way back from a restaurant), but he came back for a second date (and nearly ran over her feet by accident when she ran back to get the purse she left in the back seat) and after that, the rest was history. Well, Rob-o… you’d better hope your better half isn’t reading this review or else you may be graduating to the sofa for a spell. At least you can watch the movie again and not get that gentle elbow to the ribs when Mrs. Robinson shows some leg…

Hey! if you’re reading this, you should know that this post is part of the 1967 in Film Blogathon held over at Silver Screenings! It’s running from May 20-22, so make sure you click away on those links and get your reading on as quite a bunch of fine writers are whipping out content on this great year for films around the world…

16 thoughts on “Random Film Of The Week: The Graduate

  1. Pingback: Update: 1967 in Film Blogathon | Silver Screenings

  2. I had to watch this movie in acting class. It lasted over several classes, actually, because we had to stop it and discuss certain things and how we would choose to do them as actors. It sort of ruined the movie for me, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great movie.

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    • Hmmmm… that’s no way to see a film if it was the first time or fiftieth, I’d say. Oh well, I guess some good came of it at the end of the day… 😀

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  3. I really liked how you wrote this review. When you said your friends hadn’t seen this film before, I was really curious to learn their reaction. Sounds like it generated thought-provoking conversation.

    Thank you for reviewing this for the 1967 in Film blogathon. The blogathon wouldn’t be complete without a review of this iconic film.

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    • The funny thing was I’d written about 300 words of a review from memory and planned to watch the film again to fill in the blanks when I found out they had never seen the movie and decided to scrap the more straightforward look I’d planned. I also found out neither of them has seen more than one Kubrick film, almost NO musicals other than modern stuff like Chicago, zero screwball comedies (eek!) and nothing by Orson Welles, Godard or Kurosawa. So, yep… they’re getting a nice long summer/fall/winter list of films to see from me…

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  4. Pingback: The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #3 | The Rosebud Cinema

  5. It sounds like you have some pretty good friends. I wish I had friends who would be willing to let me introduce them to films and actually show up when I tried to arrange some kind of screening. (During my short-lived college stint I kept having these depressing experiences where I would try to set up a public screening in one of the dorm lounges but no matter how many people I invited nobody would show up, and that includes other film students).

    I really should see The Graduate at some point. Until now I knew pretty much nothing about it outside the line “Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me” and that Anne Bancroft was in there somewhere.

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    • I lucked out with these two, as the guy borrows a few games from me once in a while and when he drops by to return them, I ask what movies he’s watching and he started asking for recommendations because he tends to like certain things and she likes certain other things but they both want to get more into older movies. I don’t know what’s up with people who DON’T want to see a free (or cheap) classic (or non classic) film. I’m not a film student, but I’ve known a few and they were for the most part hungry to see stuff even if it was something they’d seen previously.

      The Graduate is a fun experience the first time and holds up quite well if you like it. You’ll see. Anne Bancroft is pretty stunning in it (another friend cracked me up because he thought it should have been Ethel Merman playing the part, but that’s a long and strange story for another time!)

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  6. Pingback: Announcing the “1967 in Film” Blogathon | Silver Screenings

  7. I’ve been both terribly disappointed & really thrilled when showing friends my idea of good movies. Either way it’s a good experience because the discussion it sparks is interesting, like in your post. Great way to present this, I kind of forgot how many important movies there were in 67 til this blogathon. cheers

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    • Thanks much! Oh it’s hot and miss with some films (I have to write up 2001: A Space Odyssey one of these days because introducing that to some kids as a half joke was a total hoot)…

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