The Graduate

The Graduate ★★★★★

Drifting. Sinking. Drowning. Mike Nichols builds "The Graduate" on these visual metaphors, crafting a melancholy comedy about the uncertain transition to adulthood. An observation of waning youth, an indictment of inexperience, and a dirge sung to jaded maturity, the film is spritely and solemn, hilarious and heartbreaking. A look at life, love, and their consequences, Nichols' film is rich and wonderful.

Beginning with Simon and Garfunkel's plaintive "Sounds of Silence" strumming in the background, "The Graduate" introduces us to Benjamin Braddock, fresh from college and clueless about his future. With obvious familial wealth but few prospects of his own, Braddock stumbles through an affairs, parental advice sessions, and a tangle of relationships. These stumbles and relationships inextricably tied together, Braddock is dealt lessons on love, sex, and the cyclical nature of it all.

The story is both authentic and cinematic, and it is a compelling blend of light and dark. Braddock is a memorable protagonist. As excellently portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, Braddock is gawky, unsure, and driven to let life come at him at its own pace. Anne Bancroft's performance as Mrs. Robinson is also remarkable: seasoned, knowing, and bored until her foundation is shaken by envy for what is genuine. Katharine Ross and William Daniels round out the cast with accomplished and sharp supporting roles.

Nichols' display of comic melancholy is lovely. His camera observes faces quietly but also captures the depth of landscapes. His characters are specks in the grander scheme of things, but they are deep and real in closeup. Compositions are varied, detailed, and lively; colors are sun dappled and real. Nichols employs editing that seamlessly pushes his story forward. Collapsing time and space, the editing reflects the blink-and-you-miss-it nature of endless summer.

Punctuating it all are the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon's words and music temper the comedy and underscore the longing of the characters. The songs reinforce tone and sell the drama. The combination of song and story is beautiful.

Narratively pleasing, aesthetically lovely, and technically rich, "The Graduate" is wholly appealing. Outstanding performances, direction that marries tone to deft cinematic storytelling, and a deep but gleeful authenticity, weave together a film with impact, grace, and spirit. Funny and meditative, confusing and promising, "The Graduate" is a lot like life.

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