Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Valerie Temple: Why I Love THE APARTMENT

We’re showing Billy Wilder’s The Apartment on 35 mm on Wednesday, August 11 as the official start to our “It’s a Mad Men’s World” film series. Programming Manager Valerie Temple shares three reasons why it’s her all-time favorite, film-wise. Check back for additional posts by BMFI staff and community members that explore the movies we love.

Why I Love The Apartment
By Valerie Temple, Programming Manager, BMFI

[This post contains SPOILERS, so be warned!]

The Apartment is my declared favorite movie. When someone asks me “What’s your favorite movie?” I answer, “The Apartment” without hesitation. This wasn’t always the case. Years ago, whenever someone dared to posit the dreaded favorite movie question, I would refuse to give a straight answer. “It’s too hard to pick just one,” I’d say. “I can give you my top ten, but that’s the best I can do.”

But then, during my junior year of college, I checked a certain VHS tape out of the campus media library to watch alone in my dorm room. Although hardly an ideal viewing environment for such a classic, the small screen failed to diminish the impact of Billy Wilder’s masterful direction, I.A.L. Diamond’s sparkling dialogue, and, most importantly, the intoxicating chemistry between leads Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. I was hooked immediately. It was love at first sight, and eleven years later it still tops my list.

What’s so great about The Apartment?

I’m glad you asked!

Bittersweet comedy – Although The Apartment retains the #20 spot on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list, it differs tonally from most straightforward comedies. This atypical film combines laugh-out-loud comedy with some very dark moments. I mean, how many comedies out there include a suicide attempt by one of the main characters?! And yet these tragic scenes do not detract from the overall humor of the film. In fact, they imbue the story and characters with humanity that is often not found in less sophisticated fare. The tightrope balance that Billy Wilder manages to tow between comedy and tragedy is truly commendable, and sets The Apartment apart from the rest.

C.C. "Buddy" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) receives his highly-anticipated promotion after allowing his superiors to use his apartment for their romantic encounters.

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter – Jack Lemmon has infused wit and warmth into many unforgettable roles (Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple, George Kellerman in The Out of Towners and John Gustafson in Grumpy Old Men, to name a few) but his prodigious talents are on full display as lovelorn office drone C.C. Baxter. In a difficult role that requires both immense comedic timing as well as the capacity for deep, tender emotion, Lemmon shines. He can be hilarious by doing something as simple as making a pasta dinner (with a tennis racket!), but he’s equally as adept at finding poignancy in the many downbeat moments of the film. Lemmon’s even able to make you laugh even while you’re crying, like the scene where a morose Baxter tries to drink thoughts of Miss Fran Kubelik (MacLaine) away and ends up dancing cheek to cheek with a blonde barfly. He so deftly embodies the role, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in it.

Buddy tries to impress Fran (Shirley MacLaine) with his creative cooking skills.
Best last line of a movie EVER – If this was the Family Feud, the most popular answer for a question about memorable final lines in movies would most likely be “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” from Casablanca. For me, it doesn’t get better than the final line in The Apartment. After finally realizing her love for Baxter, Miss Kubelik high tails it back to the apartment, only to be stopped short by an ominous noise coming from behind the door. Is it a gunshot? No, it’s the “pop” of a champagne bottle, opened by Baxter to celebrate his plans to move from the tainted apartment (and becoming a “mensch”). The rest of the scene is a master class in understatement. As Fran talks with Baxter she takes out the deck of cards that the pair bonded over earlier in the film and begins to shuffle. When it dawns on Baxter that Fran has chosen him and she plans to stay, he states plainly “I love you, Miss Kubelik. You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.” True to the salty-and-sweet tone of the film, Miss Kubelik simply offers him the cards, smiles softly, and commands Baxter to “Shut up and deal.” This sharp little exchange is romance without the schmaltz, but it is still as effective as, say, ending on a big kiss like a typical romantic comedy would do. More so even, because it is so restrained. I still get chills watching it.

I could go on and on, but those are just three reasons I love The Apartment, and three reasons for you to see the gorgeous 35 mm print of the film screening at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Wednesday, July 11 at 7:00 pm. Don’t miss it!

Valerie Temple is the Programming Manager at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She has an M.F.A. in Film Production from Boston University and thinks she's very funny. (Her words.)

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