The Graduates Movie Review: A Powerful Film about Healing and FriendshipJune 11, 2023 By Admin
Movies depicting school shootings have become increasingly relevant in today’s world, with documentaries like Bowling For Columbine and The Fallout gaining attention. The Graduates, directed by Hannah Peterson, shares similarities with these films but stands out with its authentic and unique approach. The movie revolves around the survivors and their journey after the tragic event, focusing on the friendship between Genevieve (played by Mina Sundwall) and Ben (portrayed by Alex Hibbert). The film offers a realistic portrayal of their lives and showcases their performances as breakout stars.
The storyline of The Graduates is simple yet impactful. It follows Genevieve, a high school senior, as she navigates the challenges of her final year. From the stress of college admissions to casual hangouts with friends, her experiences are relatable. However, it becomes apparent that Genevieve carries additional burdens, as her boyfriend Tyler was a victim of a school shooting that occurred the previous year—a shooting she witnessed firsthand.
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The trauma of being present during her boyfriend’s death haunts Genevieve, while Ben, Tyler’s best friend, struggles with intense survivor’s guilt for skipping school that day. Ben transfers to a different school and eventually drops out, seeking solace in pursuing a GED. As the one-year anniversary of Tyler’s death approaches, Genevieve and Ben rekindle their friendship. Together, they support each other’s healing process and confront the complex emotions they face.
Mina Sundwall delivers an exceptional performance as Genevieve, handling the challenging role with grace and authenticity. Sundwall strikes a delicate balance, avoiding melodrama and instead presenting a raw and nuanced portrayal. She showcases Genevieve’s vulnerability and strength, capturing the character’s journey of survival while attempting to honor her lost love and create a future for herself. Sundwall’s restrained performance makes the moments when Genevieve breaks down or expresses her emotions even more heart-wrenching. It is a breakout role that deserves recognition.
Alex Hibbert also delivers a notable performance, bringing depth and emotion to the character of Ben. The chemistry between Sundwall and Hibbert is excellent, anchoring the film with their compelling dynamic. The evolution of their friendship into something more is quietly electric and beautifully captured on screen. Their connection is marked by a blend of innocence and wisdom beyond their years, shaped by the tragedy that binds them together. Yasmeen Fletcher and Ewan Manley, who portray Genevieve and Ben’s friends, add levity to the story, capturing the essence of Generation Z with a mix of cynicism, hope, anxiety, and unwavering determination.
Although the adult characters have a less prominent role, they contribute significantly to the narrative. John Cho shines as the school’s basketball coach and Tyler’s father, portraying a beautiful journey that could benefit from clearer development. Kelly O’Sullivan, as the supportive counselor, also subverts stereotypes, presenting a well-rounded character. While these characters are multi-dimensional, adding more depth to their backstories would have elevated the film further. Some of the most powerful scenes involve Genevieve and her mother (played by Maria Dizzia), highlighting their unwavering love and compassion. The tender moments where Genevieve allows herself to be cared for are deeply affecting and cathartic. Together, the ensemble cast paints a poignant picture of an entire town struggling with loss, united in their efforts to move forward.
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Hannah Peterson, mentored by acclaimed filmmakers like Sean Baker and Chloé Zhao, demonstrates her talent as a director to watch. The influence of her mentors is evident in the film’s natural and authentic cinematography and performances. Peterson avoids exploiting the audience’s emotions or resorting to flashy plotlines and camera tricks. Instead, she places her trust in the characters and performers to carry the film, a decision that pays off beautifully.
The Graduates impresses with its attention to detail, using subtle cues like metal detectors and memorial displays to evoke the tragedy without dwelling on it excessively. Similarly, the glimpses of Tyler through shaky phone videos and memories enhance the story, making the audience feel connected to him. While some aspects, such as Tyler’s father’s arc and Genevieve’s interest in photography, may feel rushed or glossed over, the film’s primary focus is on the present and the relationships among the main characters. This approach leads to delightful and unexpected moments, including those between Genevieve and Tyler’s dad, as well as Ben and the counselor. The absence of clear villains or antagonists, the understanding shown even by strict teachers, and the lack of explicit reference to the gunman contribute to the film’s authentic portrayal. The ending leaves viewers with a sense of hope, but it avoids tying everything up neatly or presenting magical fixes. Instead, the film emphasizes that grief is something people learn to live with.
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The Graduates is a compelling drama that showcases incredible performances and confident direction. While it may be a quiet film, it possesses a strong viewpoint and profound messages. The talents involved, particularly Hannah Peterson and Mina Sundwall, have promising futures ahead. The Graduates serves as a remarkable start to their careers, and it will be exciting to see what they have to offer in their future endeavors.