A recent movie that, in the end, doesn’t even deserve to mention “The Graduate”


Occasionally here at bradwarthen.com I rebel against the tyranny of constant talk of politics and bring up something enjoyable — to me, at any rate. So it is that I share this brief discussion of two movies I saw over the weekend.

First, I ran across “The Graduate” on the telly Friday night. I found it just as Benjamin was meeting Mrs. Robinson at the Taft Hotel for the first time. Of course, I watched it to the end, in spite of our electrical power flickering off briefly every few minutes as the snow fell. It was wonderful, as always, verifying again why it’s on my all-time Top Five list. While watching it, I felt moved to live-Twitter it, as follows:

  • One of my favorite product placements — Ben in “The Graduate” drinking an Olympia (a beer that is no more)…
  • Watching “The Graduate” on TCM: I know she’s horrible & sad, but I think Mrs. Robinson is great… 8:51 PM Feb 12th from web
  • Katherine Ross was perfect as Elaine Robinson — a girl you immediately fall in love with; you can’t help it… 9:03 PM Feb 12th from web
  • Is “The Graduate” so great because of the Simon&Garfunkel songs, or are the songs so great because of the movie? 9:21 PM Feb 12th from web
  • Here comes Richard Dreyfuss’ one line in “The Graduate:” “Should I get the cops? I’ll get the cops…”    9:26 PM Feb 12th   from web

Anyway, my point is, the next night we watched a new flick that makes reference to “The Graduate.” It was “(500) Days of Summer,” which I had ordered from Netflix because I thought my wife would like it. I try to sandwich some of those in between “Surrogates” and “Black Dynamite” and the like, so I can think of myself as a little less of a selfish jerk than I am.

Anyway, “The Graduate” is used early in the later film to express the fact that the male lead is a hopeless romantic. There’s a reference to the fact that when he was young, he saw “The Graduate” and completely misunderstood the ending, or something like that (a reference I didn’t quite understand — I suspect the writer of this flick would think I misunderstood it as well). But the two have more in common than that. That’s because the newer one features Zooey Deschanel. In her own way, she possesses the same quality I described above with regard to Katharine Ross.

From the moment you see Katharine in “The Graduate,” there is no doubt in your mind as to why Ben would fall for her, in spite of his promise to Mrs. Robinson. There’s no way he could help himself. Every guy who saw her as Elaine fell for her immediately — more graduate115quickly than Ben, who had to see her tears in the strip club first. She just had this quality. It’s not just beauty in the esthetic sense, or sexual appeal — although she had plenty of both. There’s just an immediate tenderness she evokes. You want to take care of her, cherish her. It’s hard to explain. Do you know what I’m describing?

My point is that Zooey Deschanel possesses a similar quality — in a quirkier, more modern, semi-ironic way. You understand completely why the young man in “(500) Days” falls for her. How could he not? And it is that quality that does this film in in the end. Because Ms. Deschanel has that appeal, the movie is a failure.

Spoiler alert! That is to say, it’s what makes the film work all the way up to the ending. You can say that the first 499 of the 500 days are well worth watching, as fine an offbeat little romantic comedy as you are likely to find these days. And it’s all because of her. She, as “Summer,” makes you cheer on the protagonist as he tries to win and keep her, because that’s what you’d do in his place. That Zooey Deschanel has this quality was achingly evident since the very first film I saw her in — “Almost Famous.” When Russell enters William Miller’s home and sees his sister, it nearly derails him from his purpose in being there, quite understandably.

But at the end, when — spoiler alert again! — he fails to win her, you’re left hanging. And the attempt at the end to suggest that he’ll be OK because he meets a new girl is completely and utterly unconvincing. That’s because the girl he meets in the last scene is merely beautiful. You could even argue that she’s more beautiful than Zooey, but what of it? She’s utterly forgettable. She’s beautiful in the sterile way that Bo Derek was beautiful in “10.” Like a mannequin. You don’t fall for her at all, and there’s no way you can believe she will replace the girl he’s been mooning over for the past 90 minutes.

Endings like that make me angry. The thing is, though, it may work as a chick flick, because my wife didn’t see the problem. She thought the ending was just fine. I think that’s because, identifying with the woman, she was satisfied because the woman was fine in the end, and was willing to accept the writers’ word that the guy was fine, too. Or maybe you have to be a guy to understand the Zooey/Katharine thing.

My question is, did any of y’all see it? And do you get what I’m complaining about?

I need to watch “Surrogates” now, to cleanse the palate…


13 thoughts on “A recent movie that, in the end, doesn’t even deserve to mention “The Graduate”

  1. Tony


    I agree with your observations.

    Katherine Ross and Zooey Deschanel are attractive because they exude more beauty than just their looks.

    Oddly enough, the male director and writers did not realize this when they had offered Zooey the role in “500 Days of Summer.”

  2. Greg Jones

    My wife agrees with you.
    I liked it more than she did, though I’m always bemused when men are shown to totally break down like that. Heartsick, marginally depressed maybe, but not as low as he sunk.
    This movie doesn’t compare to The Graduate.
    Almost Famous was also a much better movie. My family and I stayed in the “Hyatt Riot House” this summer. Totally redone and rebranded by Hyatt as The Andaz. Way cool, though.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Hmmm, maybe it’s like how guys disapprove of Jenny Sanford’s book and women are all “you go girl.”

    I never understood the attractiveness of the insipid KR, while even as a young lassie I liked the leopard-print outrageous sassiness of Anne Bancroft. Dustin Hoffman was a whiny little twit, and I still have trouble figuring out why Mrs. R was interested in HIM. Now Candice Bergen at any age, I get. I didn’t get the whole Etta Place deal and KR either.

  4. Walter

    Katie – Maybe she saw something that the theater audience didn’t see when Ben got out of the pool. It was southern California after all, and they don’t have the cold shrinkage factor of upstate New York… if you’ve ever watched Seinfeld.

  5. Burl Burlingame

    Zooey Deschanal is totally adorable, or at least plays totally adorable characters. You want to hang with her instead of stare at her. But then, it’s that whole Betty/Veronica, Ginger/Mary Ann, Betty/Wilma thing.

    KF is right, “The Graduate” is a movie made by guys for guys.

  6. Anonymous

    OT – but I hope Kathryn will correct Walter yet again for this nicknaming fetish. Having a daughter of the Kathryn/Katherine/Catherine genre…I know how tenacious these women must be to not let lazy people “cutesy” up their name! Ugh.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    @Anonymous–thanks! Hey, Wally can call me Katie, if it makes him happy. I certain won’t answer to it, though….

  8. martin

    Walter does it on purpose because he really is Bill C and wants to know if insulting someone by calling them by a name they prefer not to be called crosses the civility line.

  9. martin

    oh, oh, to the topic at hand. Well, the snow knocked my cable out just as Ben was running out of gas. I was horribly disappointed.

    Katherine Ross – did you hear Buck Henry on TCM talking about how she was hired just because she walked through the door with that hair? – is ethereal. Zooey, who I have seen relatively little of, seems vacuous. But, I don’t know how different that really is in actors.
    I do find a little more in Katherine’s eyes than Zooey’s. Katherine had a couple of roles in a couple of great movies, but has not had much of an acting career. It would surprise me if Zooey had one either.

    What I noticed in this watching of The Graduate was the scene where Elaine is walking across campus in a coat and pants stuffed into her boots, while some of the other women are in skirts or pintucked dresses. It reminded me, along with Mrs. Robinson’s stockings and garter belt, what an incredible time of transition, what an incredible time, that was.

  10. Steve Gordy

    It’s dime-store psychology, but I think one of the undercurrents in “The Graduate” is how blinkin’ bored Mrs. Robinson is with her husband and her prosperous Southern California life. She goes after Benjamin because it’s obvious he’s uncomfortable with the lifestyle as well.

  11. Walter

    marty – I certainly hope you don’t work for the Columbia Police Department, at least not in a position above meter maid. Dick Tracy you are not.

    BTW – Who is Bill C?


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