Whoa. I ain’t no babyboomer, but man, I have no problem understanding why this film is dear to the heart of so many. I can’t think of another comedy that insightful about the worries of a young man. A very young but already very talented Dustin Hoffman stars as Ben, a 21 year old who just graduated from college. He has absolutely no idea where his life is heading, like many of us at that age. His confusion isn’t helped by the constant harassment from his parents, who still think that they know what’s best for him. Things don’t get any easier when Ben gets caught in an awkward sexual affair with Mrs. Robinson, a friend of his parents, and the shit really hits the fan when he falls in love with her daughter! Is their love doomed from the start?
Though often hilarious, this film is much more than just a comedy. It’s a fascinating look at how hard it is to become a man, to think of a plan for one’s future. The film is wonderfully written. The characters are all interesting, the dialogue is delightful and the many twists are inventive. But mostly, it’s Mike Nichols’ direction that is impressive. There are countless brilliantly crafted sequences in the film, and many of them have become classics. Think of the opening with Hoffman on an airport conveyor (which was recycled by Tarantino in his “Jackie Brown”) or of the disrupted wedding finale, which was often spoofed, most memorably in “Wayne’s World 2”. Nichols also uses the image of a pool to show his character’s despair, as he drifts aimlessly or sinks and is overwhelmed by water. All through the movie, Nichols experiments with camera angles and visual tricks, making the picture a feast for the eyes, and also for the ears, thanks to Simon & Garfunkel’s timeless score.
You also have to credit Nichols for flawless casting. Anne Bancroft is superb as Mrs. Robinson, a woman seductive and manipulative at the same time. Her daughter is played by Katharine Ross, a gorgeous and talented actress who achieves to acts like she both hates and loves Ben. That’s a hard balance to hold! Dustin Hoffman is simply wonderful in the title role. Nervous and confused, Ben still is a character you can relate to. You laugh at his clumsiness, but you still see him as a person, he’s not just a caricature, like many of the stock characters we see in comedies. Richard Dreyfuss can also be seen in an uncredited don’t-blink cameo. “The Graduate” is one of these rare films which are as smart as they are entertaining.