The tenth in a series reviewing the American Film Institute Top 100 in random order.
“Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.” – William Daniels as Mr Braddock
“Oh, it’s not. It’s completely baked.” – Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock
In my quest to watch the AFI Top 100, I’m always worried that the films will seem dated or that the themes won’t feel as relevant today. I probably need to stop worrying quite so much. Though the comedy of Duck Soup seemed dated and more than a little childish, most of the movies I’ve watched so far have included the things I look for most in quality films, fully realized characters that I care about, delivering well-written dialog, and filmed beautifully. The Graduate was no different, and was still very funny to boot.
Dustin Hoffman does as a great job here as Ben Braddock, a recent college graduate who’s overtaken with ennui, unable to decide what to do with his life, though it’s what’s on everyone else’s minds, especially his parents, who were helicoptering forty years before it was cool. He seems openly dismissive of the professions his parents and their friends have chosen, though unlike many young adults of sixties cinema, he isn’t able to turn those feelings into any kind of action. He’d much rather spend his time floating in the pool, soaking up the sun, even though it appears he’s even unable to take pleasure in that. For a time, he finds a measure of happiness in an affair with his father’s business partner’s wife, Mrs Robinson. She seduces him rather than the other way around (of course), and their courtship, for lack of a better word, provides many of the laughs. Ann Bancroft is wonderful as Ben’s paramour, exuding a confidence and sexiness that overlays a dissatisfaction that mirrors his. When he starts to fall for her daughter, though, she shows that there’s a mean streak underneath all her charm. She was nominated for the Best Lead Actress Oscar that year, rightly so.
The second half of the film, though not nearly as light-hearted as the first, shows Ben maturing, and it’s to Dustin Hoffman’s credit that it’s a very believable transformation. As he takes his first tentative steps into adulthood, you start to see an impish charm that was missing earlier. Counterintuitively, in taking positive steps toward growing up, he’s able to enjoy what almost seems like a second childhood. I imagine it was more enjoyable than his first. His Lead Actor nomination was also well-deserved. If anything, I wish we’d seen more of the object of his affection, the stunning Katharine Ross. She gets to show a little bit of personality and sass in the third act, but not quite enough for my taste. I can see what Benjamin sees in her, but only in the most superficial way. I wish we’d been shown more. That aside, the movie has one of the most appropriate endings I’ve ever seen. In the closing shot, once Ben has finally gathered the courage to act, to fight for the one thing he truly cares for, he lets a rare smile creep across his face. He seems satisfied, hopeful, but only for a second or two, then it starts to fade. You can already see the ennui creeping back in. It is a rare and interesting film that asks the question, “What happens after the credits roll?” and then leaves it to our imaginations to come up with an answer.
As a potentially interesting side note, this movie was rated G by the MPAA. There are a few very brief shots of Ann Bancroft’s bare breasts, though they’re almost like the shots of Pazuzu from The Exorcist. In 1976’s PG-rated The Front, the climax involves Woody Allen’s character telling a HUAC-resembling committee, “And furthermore, you can all go fuck yourselves.” It’s interesting to me that both these films would likely receive an R today for these small infractions. Is that progress?
Up next in the queue, 1973′s American Graffiti, in which our hero sees what George Lucas was up to in the six years between THX 1138 and Star Wars.
Click here for an Index of my AFI Top 100 movie reviews.