Americana Movie Month: "The Graduate" Review

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Dustin Hoffman performs in his breakout role as recent graduate Benjamin Braddock, struggling to find his way in life ends up in an affair with the wife of his father's business partner. The affair then come back to haunt Ben as he falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine.
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Americana Movie Month: "The Graduate" Review

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

At the start of "The Graduate," Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is a young man who is just out of college and still living at home, which didn't have quite the same stigma in 1967 as it does today. It still wasn't anything to be proud of, though, but the fairly meek Ben seemed somewhat aimless and unsure of how to get his life kick started again so he could move out. All of that changes one fateful night when his father's business partner and his wife come over for a party.

It is at this gathering that Ben meets Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), who is married, self-centered, and completely bored with her life as a housewife. She takes an instant liking to Ben, whom she asks to give her a ride home after the gathering. He has nothing better to do, so he complies and quickly finds himself seduced by her. They begin an affair that is later complicated by the fact that his parents want him to date Elaine (Katherine Ross), who happens to be Mrs. Robinson's attractive young daughter. Though he doesn't have feelings of love for Mrs. Robinson, he is still very reluctant to date his daughter, which he finds to be wrong on a number of levels.

He eventually agrees to go out on one date with Elaine, figuring that it would be his usual awkward date that would end badly. Instead, the date is a big success, and he finds himself wanting to see more and more of Elaine. He soon finds himself falling in love with her, much to the chagrin of her mother, who is none too happy about Ben's affections being taken away from her. Like a petulant child, she begins making some not-so-idle threats that mean trouble not only for Ben and Elaine but also potentially for Ben's parents. It's an ugly turn that forces Ben to make some very adult decisions, the weight of which might finally break him out of his man-child rut. The result is a satisfying conclusion that is wholly unexpected and is even a little bit controversial for its time.

To this day, the film stands as a landmark that helped change and eventually defined the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. There was a whole generation of college students and recent graduates who didn't want to end up like their parents and believed they could change the world to ensure that they wouldn't. The problem was that they didn't feel they had a voice that represented them to the world. The character of Ben became a beacon of hope that they could go through the massive changes that he did during the movie and come out as an iconoclast of sorts at the end.

Hoffman famously didn't almost get the role of Ben, as he botched his audition with Ross so badly that he was sure he would never hear from the producers again. He was also thirty years of age, nearly a full decade older than Ben was supposed to be at the start of the film. He was also not the first choice of Nichols, who wanted Robert Redford in the part. Redford said that nobody would believe that he was awkward with the ladies, which was an astute observation. Hoffman was awkward to the point of almost being gangly or at least as gangly as a man in his thirties could be. It showed in his audition debacle, which ironically is the reason why he won the part after other actors were crossed of the list. Knowing all this, it is still hard to imagine anybody but Hoffman in the part. His transformation from an earnest Boy Scout to an angry, reluctant adult is completely disarming. He was rightfully nominated for an Oscar for his role, even if he eventually lost to Rod Steiger of "In the Heat of the Night."

Despite a slurry of Oscar nominations, Mike Nichols was the lone winner, taking home the Best Director trophy. It was a well-deserved honor, considering how he bucked the usual movie convention of the time to make a film that some critics saw as uneven at the time. He used the music of the day, including many tunes from Simon and Garfunkel to punctuate scenes, instead of a background score. He employed artistic shots to signify time passing by, which is done quite a bit today but was virtually unheard of in 1967. His daring and bold attempts to make a film that was both artistic and statement-worthy are very much in the spirit of filming itself, which is probably why it has stood the test of time.

Rating: 4 out of 5