Friday, April 29, 2011

The Graduate

My review of The Graduate is in this week's WE.

Kayvon Khoshkam and Camille Mitchell
Kayvon Khoshkam and Camille Mitchell

The Graduate fails to seduce

When it debuted in 1967, the Graduate was hailed as the best comedy film of the year. But that was merely to be one aspect of its influence. Benjamin Braddock (portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) became the poster boy for a specific archetype: restless young men rebelling against the lingering consumer perfection of the ‘50s, but too upper class to embrace the ‘60s counter-culture. Ben’s character traits — a smart person who does some dumb, self-destructive things — spoke to a universal truth that continues to resonate and has helped make the Graduate an enduring part of pop culture.

It’s that significance that makes its alternate life as a play, adapted by Terry Johnson in 2000, a double-edged sword for the Arts Club. The name recognition all but guarantees good attendance, but with that comes high expectations. For those curious about whether the Graduate holds up in its transition from screen to stage, well, in short, it doesn’t.

Johnson’s plot points remain faithful to Calder Willingham and Buck Henry’s screenplay, which was based on Charles Webb’s novel, but he introduces a host of small changes that dilute the story.
Benjamin (Kayvon Khoshkam), home for the summer following college graduation, doesn’t know what to do with his life, but his parents are rolling full steam ahead for him to attend grad school. When Mrs. Robinson (Camille Mitchell), a friend of his parents, stumbles drunkenly into his room during a party and makes a pass at him, he succumbs to the affair, not so much from desire or excitement, but a depressive self-loathing. Ben’s shaken from his stupor when his parents insist on setting him up on a date with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Celine Stubel). Against Mrs. Robinson’s wishes, they fall for each other. He breaks Elaine’s heart when he confesses the affair and must try to win her back before she marries someone else.

Director Lois Anderson offers some nice creative touches, the best of which is original music from indie-rock band Ivory Sky. But, her scene transitions are often jarring, and her use of blackouts to convey the passage of time is poorly executed. Similarly, some of the actors’ choices are inspired, while others prove confusing. Mitchell makes an attractive Mrs. Robinson, but is never quite as manipulative, sad or calculating as necessary — playing up Mrs. Robinson’s boozy nature until she’s more caricature than character. Similarly, Khoshkam can’t quite nail down Benjamin’s rhythm for the first 30 minutes, and the opening scene between the leads are mostly devoid of spark. There are lots of laughs, but no underlying tension. Everything changes with Stubel’s arrival, as she brings out the best in both Khoshkam and Mitchell. Stubel and Khoshkam have an easy chemistry, and the scene between Stubel and Mitchell as mother and daughter contemplate the shared object of their affection and face some unpleasant truths about their relationship is genuinely fantastic.

Sadly, this scene is the only positive departure Johnson’s script makes from its source, and Anderson’s direction creates distractions rather than smoothing over the play’s fundamental flaws. It’s mostly thanks to Stubel and a few key moments that this Graduate sneaks by with a passing grade.

The Graduate runs to May 14 at Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnson), 8pm (Mon, Wed-Sat); 7:30pm (Tues). Matinees: 2pm, Wed, Sat. Tickets $25-$49 from 604-687-1644.

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