Americana Movie Month: "The Graduate" Review


Americana Movie Month: "The Graduate" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: December 22, 1967
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

The journey from adolescence to adulthood is a confusing and complex time, and "The Graduate" does a phenomenal job of summing up one young man's journey. Upon its release in theaters, it garnered some controversy from viewers who weren't sure what to think about the relationship between an older woman and a much younger man. Now regarded as a hit, the film made stars of almost everyone involved and earned an Academy Award for director Mike Nichols.

"The Graduate" tells the story of Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman, "Rain Man"), a young man who finds the world of adulthood strange and confusing. The film opens shortly after his graduation, showing him navigating through the world of his own party, which seemingly lacks anyone in his age group. Ben's awkward attempts to communicate with his parents' older friends are indicative of the film's narrative.

It isn't long before Ben meets Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft, "The Miracle Worker"), an older woman who clearly has an interest in the young man. When she utters the infamous line, "Would you like me to seduce you?" viewers will be on the edge of their seats. The situation between the two gets complicated after Ben meets Elaine (Katharine Ross, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). She is the Robinson's daughter, and just might be the perfect woman for him.

With "The Graduate," Mike Nichols introduced audiences to a new type of comedy. The 1960s were an era of change where teenagers started striking out on their own and taking steps towards their future without their parents' help. They no longer wanted to see films where couples met and fell in love in a cute way. Nichols took note of how adolescents were feeling at the time, and he used those feelings when he created the film's narrative. "The Graduate" wasn't the type of movie that parents rushed to see, but it was the type of film that appealed to younger audiences.

More than forty years after the film's release, it remains as strong as ever. Hoffman had previously found some work on stage, but "The Graduate" marked his first big-screen role. He does a brilliant job of portraying Ben as a young man who knows what he wants, but doesn't know what to do with the temptations surrounding him. Young people in the theaters could readily identify with the character of Ben because they too were struggling to walk their own path in life without alienating their parents. It's no surprise that Hoffman earned his first Oscar nomination for the film.

"The Graduate" could have been a forgettable film if it hadn't been for Bancroft. Though only a few years older than Hoffman in real life, her many years of screen-acting experience shone through with a superb performance of the alluring, yet troublesome Mrs. Robinson. With a crook of her finger or a wink of her eye, she made every man want to be with her and run from her at the same time.

The chemistry between Bancroft's and Hoffman's characters has held up well over the years, but it's the connection between Elaine and Ben that has really shone. Katherine Ross plays the sweet and innocent Elaine, a woman who finds herself torn between Ben, who might be her true love, and another man. Just like Ben, Elaine isn't sure what she wants, and finds herself doing things because she thinks that's what others expect of her. Both Ross and Bancroft received Academy Award nominations for their work on the film.

"The Graduate" has a number of memorable scenes that stick with viewers. When Bancroft lifts her leg and stares at Hoffman, viewers will eagerly want to see what happens next. That scene is forever attached to the film, appearing on its advertising poster and in several spoofs of the original film. As Hoffman nervously asks, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?" not a single person watching the film will look away from the screen.

This is an iconic film with a classic story that will never go out of style. "The Graduate" tells the story of a love triangle that becomes more complex as the film progresses. Nichols did a smart job of leaving the film open ended. Viewers will wonder what happened to each of the characters, but that ending sums up the films brilliantly. "The Graduate" is the type of film that viewers can watch multiple times and still wonder what happens after the credits roll.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars