Mike Nichols’ film of “The Graduate,” based on the novel by Charles Richard Webb, has influenced and inspired countless works in the 43 years since its release. The two scenes most often imitated are of course the seduction and the ending, which still has fans debating what happens next with Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross) after the film fades to black. Most of us would rather there not be a sequel that tells us if the couple sticks together following their insane dash from the church where Elaine was supposed to be married, or if their silent bus ride is a sign they’ve made a huge mistake and their relationship will not last. The ambiguity is part of what makes “The Graduate” great.
But people continue to either jokingly or seriously attempt follow-ups to “The Graduate,” including Webb, who a few years ago wrote a sequel to his novel, titled “Home School.” The author needed a cash-grab like this because of financial troubles, though an issue with rights complicated his ability to publish the book for a few years and once it was put out it didn’t seem to make much of a splash. As “Home School” tells it, Ben and Elaine have settled in Westchester County, New York, where they home-school their two sons. 11 years after the ending of “The Graduate,” an unwelcome Mrs. Robinson — aka “Nan” — comes to stay with them. There’s apparently some gags involving breastfeeding children late in age, so if a film adaptation ever is made it could do as well as, say, “Grown Ups.”
The plot of Webb’s novel doesn’t seem all that different from the satirical pitch made by original “Graduate” screenwriter Buck Henry during a cameo appearance in “The Player.” He suggests the three principal actors return as the three main characters and it’s now 25 years later. Ben and Elaine are married and living in a big spooky house in Northern California, and Mrs. Robinson has to live with them because she’s had a stroke or something. The couple also has a daughter in her early 20s just out of college. That’s all we hear, though, as Robbins brainstorms some titles, such as “The Post-Graduate.”
Then there’s “Rumor Has It…” a meta sequel directed by Rob Reiner that treats “The Graduate” as having been based on a true story. In the comedy, Shirley MacLaine plays the woman upon whom Mrs. Robinson was supposedly based, while Kevin Costner is the “real-life” Ben. Jennifer Aniston meanwhile is the protagonist, who becomes the third generation in her family to sleep with the guy. As far as its chronology is concerned, Ben and Elaine did not end up together.
Now there’s another idea sparked by a new ABC series called “Happy Endings,” which is at least admittedly influenced by “The Graduate.” The setup for the sitcom is that a group of friends deal with the fact that two members of their circle have just broken up at their wedding because another suitor (Damon Wayans Jr.) has crashed the ceremony and dragged the bride-to-be (Elisha Cuthbert) away. Funny enough, the situation seems as much inspired by a plotline from “Friends” as it does the ending of “The Graduate.” It also sounds similar to the premise of “The Baxter,” in which Michael Showalter plays the staple rom-com role of the guy left at the altar — like a Bill Pullman type — but he’s the main character this time around.
It’s doubtful that Hollywood will ever adapt Webb’s “Home School” into a movie. There’s no way to really cash in on the original, because even if they retitled it simply “The Graduate Part 2” it would feature different actors and would therefore be just superficially related. I expect an official remake before an official sequel. Which is good. As long as these pseudo sequels aren’t ever widely accepted as the true continuation of the story, we’ll always get to imagine our own outcome for Ben and Elaine.