And here’s to you, Jason Reitman. The director closed his Live Read series presented by Film Independent at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) this week with a surprise presentation of The Graduate. Written by Buck Henry, who was in attendance Thursday night, and Calder Willingham, and directed by Mike Nichols, The Graduate is an iconic film and considered by most to be one of the greatest American movies ever made. Even if you haven’t seen The Graduate, chances are you know certain scenes, images and music from the film. I have seen Nichols’ film about a zillion times because I went to film school and “The Graduate Day” was inevitable at least once in every semester.
That said, I’ve wanted to attend Jason Reitman’s Live Read series since they began, and even more exciting about The Graduate reading is that the cast was unannounced beforehand, so it was all a complete surprise to the audience who would be involved that night. The evening featured Kevin Pollak as Mr. Robinson, Sharon Stone as Mrs. Robinson, Jay Baruchel as Benjamin, Live Read staple performer (she’s been in every one) Mae Whitman as Elaine, Tig Notaro as Mrs. Braddock, and Paul Scheer as Mr. Braddock.
The thing that’s great about a live read is that the words on the page take center stage. For as much as I have The Graduate memorized beat for beat, I found myself really listening to certain dialogue for the first time. When something is on film so much of the presentation is visual whether its the actual shot composition that you find on screen, the actors blocking, the editing that moves the actors performances this way or that, but with a live read, really all you’re left to do is listen.
It is remarkable how funny Kevin Pollak is. This is no secret to anyone who is a fan of the actor, but he could make one line, seemingly about nothing, coming from a condescending guest at Ben’s graduation party, side-splittingly funny. During the scenes between Mrs. Robinson and Ben, I actually found myself watching Pollak watching the performance. He was sitting back in his seat, listening and watching just like the rest of the audience, clearly amused and laughing along. The other stand-out of the bunch was Jay Baruchel, who managed to make Ben his own and find sweetness and patience and confusion in places where Hoffman’s take on the role might have appeared agitated, defensive, or nervous.
The final thing that is worth mentioning here is how, on that evening, I realized how truly spectacular the late Anne Bancroft was as Mrs. Robinson. While listening to the actual words being delivered straight from the page, I realized how much of that character Bancroft herself mined and discovered on her own. Sure, Mrs. Robinson is sexy and powerful — that’s all big part of her character — but she was also trapped and confident and insecure and really funny all at the same time. It’s a real treat for cinephiles to have a performance like hers as Mrs. Robinson captured on film forever. She clearly understood that character in a way that not many others could.
The Graduate is a funny, funny screenplay. Listening to it read live on stage, it was amazing how comedically it was actually written, and that’s the thrill of watching Reitman’s Live Read series. It’s not about how iconic the film or role was or who has come before, it’s an appreciation of art and entertainment and exploring great work in a new way by equally great people.
Film Independent at LACMA hosts the Live Read series, directed by Jason Reitman. The series will return in October 2014.