The Apartment

The Apartment ★★★★★

1960's "The Apartment," directed by Billy Wilder, is a romantic comedy built on a foundation of ambition, deceit, and cynicism. Those elements are played to their most whimsical, however, only tempering the film's vast charm with a touch of real-world melancholy. Wilder's comedy may have a jovial exterior, but the qualities lurking just under that fizzy surface are what makes "The Apartment" great.

Wilder's protagonist is C.C. Baxter. Played with hangdog enthusiasm by Jack Lemon, Baxter loans out his apartment to the bigwigs at his insurance firm as a place to take their mistresses, girlfriends, and anyone else they need to keep from the eyes of decorum. Wilder plays this for laughs, Baxter seeing it as way to get ahead in the company. It is not without it's downside, though, as Baxter must deal with both a steady stream of requests for his home and an elevator girl he fancies.

This could all quickly turn dark, but Wilder handles the script like that of an Oscar Wilde drawing room comedy. The tone is the thing, and Wilder keeps things light. His eye is firmly on the foibles of people, bringing out what deserves to be laughed at while grounding those laughs in certain, human sadness.

Wilder's cast is remarkable. Lemmon and a radiant Shriley MacLaine do the script's heavy lifting, generating characters who are human and memorable. Lemmon communicates subtle loneliness and outright ambition couched in genuine warmth and comic energy. MacLaine plays her role controlled grace, sadness, and charm.

The film's black and white cinematography captures the interiors and exteriors of New York in early winter handsomely. Wilder composes shots that are visually deep, allowing the audience to see into the nooks and crannies of the film's locations. It is an appropriate visual metaphor in a film that allows its audience to see into the nooks and crannies of characters who, in any other comedy, might be played superficially.

"The Apartment" may be a comedy, but, in hinting at the emotions lurking under its plot's surface, the film becomes much richer. "The Apartment" may be a romance, but, in keeping its focus couple mostly uninvolved romantically, the film becomes much more human. Wilder has put together something great. Funny, good looking, deliciously performed, and featuring the under-the-surface churn of real emotion, "The Apartment" is a romantic comedy that is an altogether excellent experience.

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