#11. The Graduate (1967)
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry (based on The Graduate by Charles Webb)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
The Graduate is Mike Nichols’ brilliant and progressive project that has inspired generations of movie lovers. The film is based on Charles Webb’s novel of the same name, and picked up Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and won for Best Director (Nichols). The Graduate follows young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) after he has finished college. Unsure of how to proceed with life, Benjamin becomes somewhat depressive. The young Braddock is eventually seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), an older woman whose daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross) is in love with Benjamin. Benjamin and the older Mrs. Robinson pursue an affair, which severely complicates his relationships with Elaine. After Elaine finds out about the affair, things become messy for all those involved – especially for Benjamin, who has fallen in love with Mrs. Robinson’s young daughter. The Graduate is one of the most brilliant works in American film history, featuring iconic performances, moments, music, and almost universally relatable themes. It’s the ultimate coming-of-age story, exploring the often confusing and unexciting life after college – experienced through the eyes of an awkward, but highly intelligent and perceptive young man. No movie has ever captured the feelings of post-college life quite like The Graduate does, which is an impressive feat since the film is now fifty years old. Director Mike Nichols had already made a name for himself in Hollywood with the previous year’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but The Graduate feels like a revelatory step for Nichols. The director’s penchant for hilarious visual and verbal humor is clear throughout, creating some of the most awkwardly funny moments in Hollywood history (the “plastics” party scene and the seduction of Benjamin by Mrs. Robinson in particular). Nichols’ use of music is another incredible touch, setting many scenes to the songs of Simon & Garfunkel – The Graduate has made “The Sound of Silence”, “Mrs. Robinson”, and “Scarborough Fair” some of the groups most beloved and enduring tracks. The entire film has an air of malaise and apathy about it, which works perfectly in capturing the tone and uncertainty of life after school. The screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry is incredible, combining different styles of humor and satire with a genuinely touching romantic story and challenging themes of the uncertainty that comes with being young. The structure of the narrative and the exchanges of dialogue between characters feels natural, modern, and still relevant all these years later. The two were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, but were bested by that year’s Best Picture winning drama In the Heat of the Night. The highlights of the film are its lead performers Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, whose chemistry together on screen is tremendous. The veteran Bancroft brings experience and screen presence to the role of Mrs. Robinson, and the younger and unsure Dustin Hoffman makes him a perfect match for the role of Benjamin Braddock. Every scene they share together is better than the last, with their relationship quickly developing and becoming far more complicated than either could have expected. The story of their affair never feels false or reaching, which is important when it comes to suspending your disbelief. The romantic subplot between Hoffman’s Benjamin and Katharine Ross’ Elaine is genuinely compelling and sweet, thanks largely in part to the performances from the young actors. Without their budding romance, The Graduate would merely be the story of a quick and awkward affair between two deeply mismatched people. The Graduate is a funny, insightful, stylish, and personal film that deserves every bit of praise it has received over fifty years – it’s a film I love to revisit, and one I find myself coming back to again and again.