The Graduate (1967)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Graduate</strong> (1967)

(On TV, April 2018) The problem with being a generation’s defining statement is that it may not be as compelling to other generations. Contemporary accounts of The Graduate clearly show that it struck a nerve with the baby-boomer generation then coming of age alongside the film’s protagonist. But watching it today doesn’t carry the same message. While Dustin Hoffman ably embodies that generation’s desire to rebel against their parents, his particular struggles seem to belong to the late sixties. Strangely enough, it wouldn’t take much to retell The Graduate today—the big social plot threads are still more or less relevant and technology hasn’t changed much along the way. It doesn’t feel as dated as some of its contemporaries, yet the film simply doesn’t feel all that striking. You can easily imagine a low-budget dramedy telling more or less the same story, but there’s no way that such a film would become the monster hit that it was back then, at a time when “New Hollywood” cinema was waking up from its post-Hays Code stupor. Does it still work today? Well, yes, in its own offbeat way. The film’s first half is surprisingly funny for a film with a reputation as a romantic drama, although the second half really brings the laughs to a stop. It’s remarkably amusing to see firsthand what pop culture has been parodying or sampling for fifty years—you can find echoes of The Graduate in everything from Wayne’s World 2 to George Michael’s “Too Funky.”  Hoffman shows his unusual gifts as an actor, while Anne Bancroft is unforgettable as Mrs. Robinson. Simon & Garfunkel provide the score, which is one of the things that most clearly date the film. Still, it’s worth a middling look today—but maybe not for itself as much as for the impact it had.

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