"Graduation": Teenage dramedy doesn't do its characters justice
Cynicism is one thing in a movie, but cynicism wed to naïveté is another. "Graduation," a borderline dramedy with somewhat interesting...
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"Graduation," with Adam Arkin, Shannon Lucio, Riley Smith, Chris Marquette, Chris Lowell. Directed by Michael Mayer, from a screenplay by Mayer and D. Cory Turner. 89 minutes. Rated R for language, violence. Varsity.
Cynicism is one thing in a movie, but cynicism wed to naïveté is another. "Graduation," a borderline dramedy with somewhat interesting relationship crosscurrents among four friends facing life after high school, squanders audience goodwill with its tediously judgmental treatment of anyone who isn't flush with youthful promise.
Filmmaker Michael Mayer has an intriguing irony in his original story (co-written with D. Cory Turner), but he identifies too much with the self-referential, adolescent perspective of his major characters. Harvard-bound Polly (Shannon Lucio) and her lackluster boyfriend Chauncey (Riley Smith), along with their hipster pal Carl (Chris Marquette) and the severely underachieving Jackson (Chris Lowell), are headed in separate directions after graduation.
The world might be their oyster, but they funnel all their youthful idealism into a doomed plan to rob a bank run by Polly's father, Dean (Adam Arkin). Carl's mother (Glynnis O'Connor) is dying and needs money that Dean reluctantly refuses to loan Carl, so Polly talks the others into robbing the place during graduation ceremonies.
Mayer sets up a dramatic collision between the kids' well-meaning, post-high-school fantasies of power and control, and the real-world consequences for which they aren't prepared.
But instead of mining that tension, Mayer takes cheap shots justifying the heroes' conviction that they have every right to stick it to the establishment. His targets end up being ordinary adults with ordinary conflicts and compromises: Dean, for example, has an affair with a fellow banker that angers Polly (understandably) but seems to disgust Mayer, who frames him as an unsympathetic lowlife.
Dean's mistress is presented as a flinty twit who deserves mistreatment, while a police captain who turns up when the heist goes wrong is superficially patterned after Charles Durning's in-over-his-head negotiator in "Dog Day Afternoon." The sketchy adults in this movie are nothing more than emblematic of every 17-year-old's certainty that grown-ups are corrupt. A mature storyteller would have made clear that those same adults are pretty much the people Polly and her wannabe Merry Men will grow up to be one day.
"Graduation" closes with an appalling cop-out crystallizing youthful dreams of outlaw righteousness. One can only assume, at that point, that Mayer literally forgot what kind of movie he set out to make.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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