Time has granted Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) the uncontested title of representative coming-of-age film for a generation, but my favorite entry in cinema’s “pain of growing up” sweepstakes is this delightfully offbeat comedy from a young (27) Francis Ford Coppola. You’re a Big Boy Now was Coppola's first film for a major studio as well as his master's thesis submission to the UCLA film school, and as such, displays an engagingly youthful lack of discipline and over-fondness for camera trickery...two things that don't exactly get in the way in films that came out of he 60s.
You’re a Big Boy Now is about the misadventures of Bernard (scornfully nicknamed “Big Boy” by his self-centered father), a woefully under-experienced 19 year-old who, at the insistence of his father and against the protests of his obsessively over-protective mother, goes off to live on his own in Manhattan. Bernard’s naiveté and propensity to lose himself in flights of fantasy consistently get him into trouble as he attempts to navigate life and love on the path toward adult independence.
|Elizabeth Hartman as Barbara Darling|
|Peter Kastner as Bernard Chanticleer|
|Geraldine Page as Mrs. Chanticleer|
|Julie Harris as Miss Thing|
|Rip Torn as Mr. Chanticleer|
|Karen Black as Amy Partlett|
Given how male filmmakers and writers never seem to tire of wistful, semi-autobiographical looks back on their sexual awakening, there’s no shortage of these “rite of passage” films to choose from. Indeed, one could probably fill an airplane hangar with them. Inherently similar in tone, most suffer from a kind of willful masculine myopia and gender fear that finds endless charm in the sexual fumblings of doltish, socially awkward, physically unattractive, emotionally superficial young men who nonetheless feel they rate the most beautiful woman in the film. Being the wish-fulfillment fantasies they are, our callow hero usually does get the longed-for beauty, but it’s a certainty that before the end credits roll, said dream girl will reveal herself to be somehow undeserving of his noble affections (take THAT pretty girls who snubbed the director in high-school!).
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
Providing, as it does, a subjective view of the overwhelming and perilous adult world as it's perceived by the sheltered Bernard, there is much to enjoy in the film's many eccentric visual flourishes, absurdist characters, and anarchic editing style. With its blaring (and rather good) score of pop songs by The Lovin' Spoonful, You’re a Big Boy Now is a 60s film to its core, complete with an overarching air of reproach directed at middle-class sexual repression and senseless guilt.
|"Don't eat too much, don't stay out late, don't go to suspicious places or play cards, and stay away from girls! But most of all Bernard, try to be happy."|
The desirable, yet dangerous, female is as much a staple of the coming-of-age film as the virginal hero having a more sexually sophisticated best friend/advisor (in this instance, the appropriately unctuous Tony Bill). When it comes to scary women, You’re a Big Boy Now has probably the most disturbing, dick-withering example of that gynophobic archetype ever to come out the free-love era: the man-hating, aspiring actress/go-go dancer, Barbara Darling.
|Displaying her vast range, the man-eater of You're a Big Boy Now is light years away from the Elizabeth Hartman in this promotional clip.|
A Cinderella Named Elizabeth: 1965 featurette for "A Patch of Blue"
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
You're a Big Boy Now has some great shots of Manhattan and New York's seedy Times Square area that predate the gritty images in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Klute (1971). It's fun seeing theater marquees advertising films like Born Free and The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
What's fun about watching the early works of accomplished directors is trying to catch a glimpse of some kind of nascent artistry or budding style that would later emerge as a defining trait or characteristic of their work. To look at the early films of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen is to see the beginnings of a style and preoccupation with themes they continue to bring to their work even to this day. In watching You're a Big Boy Now, I was left with two thoughts: 1) with this film's pre-MTV kinetic rhythms, how is it that all of Coppola's subsequent musical outings (Finian's Rainbow, One From the Heart, and The Cotton Club) all seemed so flat?; 2) Coppola shows such a flair for comedy here, I'm surprised he hasn't had many comedies on his resume.Although You're a Big Boy Now has not been widely seen nor is it particularly well-known, Elizabeth Hartman and Geraldine Page were both nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, with Miss Page (who was married to co-star Rip Torn at the time) garnering an Oscar® nod as well. Best of all (for me, anyway, because I'm such a big fan) the film gave Karen Black her film debut. Pretty classy pedigree for a director's first major film.