Ryster’s review published on Letterboxd:
Here's the thing with The Graduate, celebrating it's fiftieth anniversary you'd think there'd be some aspect of it that doesn't hold up. Some of the writing or dialogue would seem dated by now. You'd think that, or at least I did. I hadn't seen Mike Nichols masterpiece for quite some time. When I first experienced The Graduate, I might've been a bit too young to fully appreciate it. I must've only been about ten years old, or round about that age. At that age the film struck me as different. The normal things that everyone talks about, the infamous opening and closing shots, the surprisingly serious plot points that seem more fitting for a deadly serious drama instead of a comedy and of course Simon and Garfunkel's iconic soundtrack, it just wasn't what I was expecting. I enjoyed it back then, but obviously I needed to reevaluate it.
This was long overdue another watch and when it was set for a short theatrical release to acknowledge its milestone birthday, I couldn't say no. Well, it came, and went. A week of bad show times that I just couldn't make. I then went on holiday, and missed it again in a different cinema. Once I came back after a two week break, I was pleasantly surprised that I had one last chance. Not only that, but it was the best possible experience out of all three. A cheap ticket, the largest screen in the cinema and to top it all off, a new 4K restoration. The Graduate has gotten nothing but critical acclaim since its release back in 1967. The writing, direction by Nichols and acting from the entire cast has been applauded and awarded. And rightfully so. As The Graduate is not only a hilarious coming-of-age tale with unexpected outcomes, but also an excellent window into what life was like at that moment and time. And more than anything else, it holds up, a lot.
Benjamin has just graduated from college and he's returned to his home. Where all that's waiting for him is loneliness and the incredibly strong sense that he doesn't know what he wants to do with his future. He's lost and doesn't know where to go in his life. Then, Mrs. Robinson walks in and offers him something new, something rebellious.
The character of Benjamin not only set off the career of the very talented Dustin Hoffman, but also provided him with one of his greatest performances. One that is very hard to top. Here, Hoffman is phenomenal. Beginning with his motionless stance on a moving walkway to his final, terrified stare into the unknown. He perfectly encapsulates the fear and sadness that is felt when the future isn't clear, when there's nothing to look forward to or fall back on. In moments where he longingly gazes into his fish tank, or sinks to the bottom of his swimming pool. Moments of utter silence, where all he does is look and think. He gives Benjamin so much depth and personality. He's not just the lead character in a romantic comedy. He's conflicted, a character that wants to be, as he puts it, different. Thanks to this, when Benjamin finally has something meaningful in his life, something to look forward to in the form of Mrs. Robinson, Hoffman's excitement and hesitation mix together perfectly. He delivers the comedy instantly and, it looks like, without even trying. He portrays the shy and quiet aspect brilliantly. He's scared and inexperienced which leads to hilarity. But once these meetings become frequent, he falls back into the meaningless of it all. Hoffman portrays a character that shouldn't always be likeable, as likeable. The events that he partakes in, the consequences from his actions, and he doesn't care. He's only worried about himself, and what he can do to find meaning. But I really like him. He's funny, charming and the character you want to see succeed the most. Especially with the age that I am now, I can relate to Benjamin more than ever. Hoffman's been undeniably incredible in many things, but this performance is the one I'll instantly think of when his name pops up.
Anne Bancroft also delivers an iconic performance. Not only does she define the term "cougar" better than anyone else, she also perfectly portrays a person that's living a life that she doesn't want. Up until a certain conversation, Bancroft teases and seduces in a masterful way and that's all she does, but when we finally learn about her, when Ben realises who she is as a person, it's quite sad. She's just as lost in this world as Benjamin, but instead of having a future in which anything could happen, she's stuck firmly where she is. Bancroft and Hoffman together perfect the art of awkward conversations and comedy. Katharine Ross portrays Mrs. Robinson's daughter and her character's the one deserving of the most sympathy. Honestly, Ross gives the character of Elaine such an upbeat, kind and likeable quality. She's introduced with a beautiful smile and in a polite manner. And all she gets is mistreated, lied to and forced into who she can and cannot see. In the moments where she's having fun with Hoffman the film can be classed as a romantic comedy, but those scenes are far apart. She too does a fantastic job in the final moments of the film.
When I first heard about The Graduate, I was lead to believe that it was a romantic comedy. That's what I went in looking for the first time I saw it, and even though it does have romantic plot points, and it most certainly is funny, I wouldn't say that's the best way to describe the story. The focus here isn't so much on Ben and Mrs. Robinson's relationship, nor Ben and Elaine's relationship. It's a coming-of-age drama. One that's not necessarily happy and light. Ben's just out of college and has no idea what he wants to do. Thinking about a future in which there's nothing for you isn't that much of a happy thought. He's expected to do amazing things by his family. When Mrs. Robinson comes into the picture, Ben's not thinking about anyone else. He doesn't see the implications that could happen even if they get caught. He sees something different, which is exactly what he wants. When the fairytale aspect comes into play, the film doesn't forget this. As the closing of the movie drags Ben back down to reality, back to thinking about his future which may not be as open as it once was. The Graduate is a comedy though. It's hilarious and I was smiling throughout most of the film. It's really entertaining.
Mike Nichols won the Best Director award at the Oscars for this film, and it's understandable why. It's really well paced and the subject matter never gets diluted by the tone. Serious matters are tackled seriously instead of just being thrown around. Also the transitions are incredible. There's a montage in the middle of the film that shows the passing of time in which the affair is happening, and it's flawless. The cinematography is also superb. Shots are impeccably framed, creating a very stylish and iconic looking movie. I've no doubt that the '60s were cool, but this makes the '60s look cool. The soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel works with the film. Instead of just being a soundtrack full of amazing songs, they actually add weight to the film and certain scenes. The opening and closing in which The Sound of Silence is played over, or the excellent use of Mrs. Robinson as Ben drives like a maniac to reach Elaine in time. The Graduate can be viewed as a romantic comedy. I enjoyed it like that a few years ago when I first saw it. It's hilarious and extremely entertaining due to the incredible cast. But, when you actually sit down and watch it, when you really invest your time in the film, you'll see that it's much more. Benjamin becomes scarily familiar, and with his story of loneliness and being lost in this world, the overall impact of the film is stronger. It still feels relevant fifty years later. It's perfect.