Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf? Virginia Woolf… Virginia Woolf… Okay, who IS Virginia Woolf? She’s not really a part of the actual movie. She was a writer – that much I know from working in a bookstore. Upon learning a little more about her, she was known for her stream of consciousness style and psychological themes. To say “who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” as though she was Disney’s big, bad wolf, is to suggest that you might be afraid of those things that you can’t accept.
Kind of wish I’d understood that before I watched the movie.
Martha and George (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton), a couple with some serious tongue issues, have returned late from a dinner party at Martha’s father’s home – the president of some local New England college. George is a history professor. He speaks very well. Martha drinks a lot. She also thinks it’s cool to invite a young couple over for drinks at two am without informing the husband.
The good-looking Nick and his mousey wife Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis), a recently hired biology professor and a naïve blonde, aren’t sure how to react to the volatile atmosphere that is their host’s home. The rest of the film details the events of the evening. On the menu: Martha lewdly flirting with Nick, George testing Nick’s verbal skills, the whole party tip-toeing around conversing about Martha and George’s oddly absent son – whose birthday is the following day, Honey getting sick and super drunk, playing fun games such as Humiliate the Host followed by Get the Guests, and basically everybody getting more drunk and crying and shouting and stuff.
My honest reaction upon the revealing ending was, “huh, it’d probably be good to watch that again with a better vision of what went on there. … Actually, I think I’d rather never watch it again.” Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is certainly an incredible tale. But it’s a downer. Not that I’m judging anyone who does drink, I must admit I have never been more grateful that I don’t. I can’t say that I comprehend exactly the what’s up of, you know, intoxication, but I’ll admit that this situation is NOT my idea of fun. This is what AA is for guys. The entire film is mesmerizing, but not necessarily enjoyable.
The best thing here is the performances. Our four leads (so, the whole cast?) were all nominated for Oscars with the two ladies taking the cake. All four were deserving of the acclaim – Richard Burton was definitely my favorite performance, but I can’t argue with Paul Scofield winning that one for A Man for All Seasons. The writing is, of course, impeccable but Burton’s delivery is witty and even entertaining. Like any person with a gifted tongue would be able to, he hides his own torment and anguish through his insulting monologues.
Elizabeth Taylor can act, guys. She put on around 30 pounds for the role, and abandoned her famous beauty for this role of a slob. Her foul mouth and obnoxious mannerisms are fascinating. She embodies the monstrous character in such a way that gives her life – you can see the potential that Martha had to be tender and kind. George Segal and Sandy Dennis are also incredible, their ups and downs and insecurities are perfectly emulated.
Through those performances, we get to study the relationships between each couple and as an entire group. Why Martha and George were married in the first place, who knows. It’s nothing but put-downs, insults, humiliation, cussing, and zero mutual respect. Casting Burton and Taylor was genius – you’ve always got that notion in the back of your mind about their real-life relationship=fascination to a whole ‘nother level. Nick and Honey, seemingly in love at first aren’t quite so peachy-keen with each other it turns out. He married her because he thought she was pregnant, and for her money. I guess that’s cool, she’s pretty high-strung I’m not sure who would marry her out of love. No offense.
Mike Nichols directs this very well – his first film crazy enough. Again, the casting choices were awesome. The story, based off the Tony-award winning play, is well played out and greatly paced.
I must admit, there are very few things wrong with this movie, as you may have gathered with all this good stuff i’m talking about. But it’s so dark and awful, it’s hard to enjoy so much hate and without any real resolution to happiness. It’s certainly worth watching for the feat that it is, but it, by no means, will ever be a favorite of mine. “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “I am.” 6/10