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The Apartment

I recently watched The Apartment, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Billy Wilder. It’s a comedy of sorts, but Wilder addresses some heavy themes—suicide, contentment, and materialism, to name a few—that make this film more than forgettable slapstick.

I read the script years ago. That was a sort of hobby of mine for a while, when I had a lot of discretionary time. I read a lot of great movies, and have since forgotten how they go. I remembered The Apartment in snatches, but had forgotten most of it, and I’m glad. Thanks to Wilder, the gorgeous Shirley MacLaine, and Lemmon’s excellent performance, this film far transcends the script.

Jack Lemmon’s character, Bud, is a goofy actuary who works in desk city (this is before there were cubicles) on the floor. This sounds terrible and boring, but it’s funny; it’s Jack Lemmon, come on. There are some people who don’t have to do anything anymore; they can just stand there and their presence can make us laugh. (It’s probably our expectations making us laugh… We’re trained to think they’re funny by their previous performances, so they are.) Billy Crystal and Bill Murray are two others who can be funny in almost any circumstance. And it’s a good thing: Lemmon’s humor and Shirley MacLaine’s response provide good counterpoint to what’s actually going on.

The Apartment is a dark, comedic, and well-executed film.  Billy Wilder is a master of sometimes subtle symbolism, and a good director.  His storytelling is particularly effective; it doesn’t lag, and it’s not oppressive; it’s bittersweet. It has many happy moments as well, but interpreted through the larger picture of the film, even those sour a bit—though the ending is another story entirely. But I won’t ruin that. Unless I just did.

As I watch and read more widely acknowledged classics, I’m discovering a lot of stuff other folks take for granted. Example: Shakespeare is a good writer. So is Ernest Hemingway. And Shirley MacLaine is beautiful.

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