Published Jan. 28, 2018 at ZekeFilm.org. Each month, ZekeFilm critics contribute to a group feature called Film Admissions, in which we each admit to watching classic films for the first time with a similar theme. In January 2018, we each watched a Billy Wilder film we’d never seen before.
Film Admission: The Apartment
I get a kick out of the original posters for The Apartment: “Movie-wise, there has never been anything like ‘The Apartment’ love-wise, laugh-wise, or otherwise-wise!”
While that sounds like typical marketing hyperbole, the Academy agreed: The Apartment earned nominations for 10 awards and won 5, including top dogs Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.
Would today’s Academy be so enamored with Billy Wilder’s writing/directing/producing gig? I don’t think so, but that says more about the their current tastes than about him. Voters now like their films historical (12 Years a Slave, Argo, The King’s Speech), experimental (Moonlight, Birdman, The Artist), or issues-focused (Spotlight, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire), and they like them most when they can combine those elements. A straightforward, contemporary character drama about a 9-to-5 office job wouldn’t rank high their Oscar bait checklist, so much so the only Best Picture nominee in the last 10 years with any resemblance is Silver Linings Playbook.
But Wilder got a kick out of those straightforward character dramas, and he found his mojo when he was writing “just” a man and a woman talking. He found it in Sabrina and Sunset Boulevard, but his mojo arguably worked its magic best in The Apartment. (No matter how you rank those three, we can agree they all beat Love in the Afternoon.) Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine bring fully realized people to a New York City apartment—he an insecure conformist, she a wounded spark. They’re both dreamers of the same sort, ones who yearn for stability that comes with unconditional acceptance.
For something so simple, it digs deeper and darker than you’d think if you’ve only seen the image of Lemmon and MacClaine’s playful hand of gin rummy. Yes, it’s witty (“When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.”), but it’s just as heartbreaking. (In the age of #MeToo, it weighs even heavier.) Today’s Hollywood may not be so enamored with these stories, but it would probably be better for them.