Critical Condition: Becoming Mike Nichols

Becoming Mike Nichols (SoHo, 8.30 Wednesday)

“From the revealingly sustained closing shot of The Graduate to the rich structural sprawl of Angels in AmericaMike Nichols was a filmmaker who often knew the virtues of taking his time — so for a documentary on his work to clock in at just 72 minutes doesn’t seem fitting in any sense. Not that Douglas McGrath’s Becoming Mike Nichols attempts a precis of its subject’s whole, many-leveled career in such a drastically short running time. ‘Becoming’ is the operative word, as Nichols — in an onstage interview shot months before his death in 2014 — talks through only his formative work in the 1960s, with his Oscar win for his soph feature The Graduate bringing proceedings to an abrupt close.”  — Variety.

“About 40 minutes are dedicated to Nichols’ accounts of the making of his first two films, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate … for which Nichols won his directing Oscar (to go along with his nine Tonys and four Emmys) and which he regarded, in the end, as his best film. As long clips play out, he addresses in depth the difficulty of the adaptation, his decision to cast the unknown Dustin Hoffman, the origin of Hoffman’s little yelp, the way he interpolated Simon and Garfunkel’s songs and how they came upon the hauntingly ambiguous ending.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

“At one point, Nichols confesses to having seen George Stevens’s 1951 film A Place in the Sun about 150 times. ‘It was not only my favorite movie,’ he says, ‘it was my bible.’ Becoming Mike Nichols will make you want to go back and rewatch Stevens’s gorgeous and definitely American film, but only after you’ve paid a nice, long visit to Nichols’s greatest hits.” — Boston Globe.

“The real value of the documentary lies in charting Nichols’ creative trajectory from the staging and improvisation lessons learned with comedy partner Elaine May, through collaborations with playwright Neil Simon on Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, and the director’s first two feature films, both legendary — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate … By concentrating on the early projects, we get a richer sense of the development of Nichols the artist in his own words and illustrated with photos and extended clips of performances.” — Los Angeles Times.

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