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15 Great Movies With A Mrs. Robinson Complex

22 July 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Susannah Farrugia

movies with mrs robinson complex

The term “Mrs. Robinson” usually refers to romances between older women and much younger boys. It originates from Anne Bancroft’s portrayal of the seductive and lewd older woman in 1967’s “The Graduate”. The women in these relationships share an overall dissatisfaction with not only men their own age, but with their personal lives.

Most are unhappy or lethargic before they meet the young man/boy who changes their routine and makes them feel again. Most are widows, teachers, or married and being cheated on themselves while the young men are directionless and curious. Below is a list of films that have a Mrs. Robinson Complex to some degree.

 

15. Don Jon (2013)

Julianne Moore in Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars as Jon Martello, whose life is based on a solid routine of excessive masturbation to porn, clubbing and hooking up with girls (who must be at least an 8 on his chart), going to Church to confess for his “out of wedlock activity” and training at the gym while praying in repentance.

He prefers watching porn alone than having sex with an actual girl, considering the latter to be much less satisfying with distracting condoms, boring missionary position and reciprocating oral sex. He meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) who rejects being a one night stand and insists on dating and waiting. She encourages him to go to night classes to get an office job so he could become successful.

Esther (Julianne Moore), a middle-aged woman who is in his class, catches him watching porn on his phone when she apologizes to him for sobbing and blocking the doorway when he was coming in. Despite his initial clear discomfort with her, she continues to talk to him when they bump into each other. She lends him an old 70s porn video that is more realistic than the stuff he watches daily.

She seems genuinely interested in his addiction and how he can become less dependent and fixated on it. She teaches him that sex is a two way street, where both people get lost in each other – that he is not the only person who matters. He grows to care for Esther, and even learns about her traumatic past.

 

14. The Good Girl (2002)

The Good Girl

This independent comedy-drama written by Mike White (Enlightened) is the film which broke Jennifer Anniston away from comedy and her character in “Friends”. She portrays the unhappy and apathetic 30-year-old Justine Last, an employee at the local megastore in a small Texan town along with a vulgar Cheryl (Zooey Deschenal) and the recently employed teenage cashier Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal in his Donnie Darko era).

Justine appreciates Holden’s contempt for the world and his self-imposed isolation in the store. After giving him a lift home and learning he named himself Holden after ”The Catcher And The Rye”, they start taking lunch breaks together. After, Holden fakes an ankle injury so she could give him another lift home and this0 soon becomes routine.

Married for 7 years to Phil (John C. Reilly), Justine remains gloomy at home as she does at work, upset that she hasn’t become pregnant yet and annoyed with her husband’s marijuana smoking habits. Holden sends her a letter threatening that if she does not meet him at 5pm behind the Chuck E. Cheese, she’ll never see him again. Faced with an ultimatum between what she thinks is good and she wants, her decision is interfered with by circumstance.

 

13. The English Teacher (2013)

The English Teacher (2013)

Influenced by the Romantics and the Brontë sisters, the sweet and idealistic Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) lives a quiet and simple life in a small town in Pennsylvania where she teaches what she loves. While she is happy alone, she still attempts to find a man to spend her days with, but she also finds reasons to reject all potential candidates as well.

When she accidentally pepper-sprays a former student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano), who is returning from his failed dream of becoming a big, successful New York City playwright, she convinces him to produce his passed-over play at the school.

The principles think the script is too inappropriate for a high school production and try to change the ending. Linda promises to do this but doesn’t tell Jason. She guides Jason, helping him to react objectively to criticism and sympathizing with his apparently strained and abusive relationship with his father (Greg Kinnear), but her counselling goes a bit too far resulting in a “minor indiscretion”.

 

12. A Teacher (2013)

A Teacher (2013)

Hannah Fidell’s 75-minute independent drama wastes no time with exposition. Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge), a high school teacher has already made the mistake of starting an illicit affair with one of her students, Eric Tull (Will Brittain). This makes the audience feel that it is too late to stop the inevitable.

As the film goes on, she becomes more unstable and obsessive about their relationship. Switching between being excessively paranoid and behaving recklessly, Diana loses control of her emotions and forgets about the consequences of her actions. She behaves little more mature than a teenager herself, reminiscing about her high school years with him and making the same faults in judgements as her students.

The suspenseful dread is heightened by a sharp tangy score (Brian McOmber), limited dialogue, and fading transitions. Her routine of running and lessons help punctuate each dramatic episode by letting the audience escape from the claustrophobic dark interiors of the bedroom or car or wherever they’ve found to have sex, and breathe.

A focused character piece, “A Teacher” does not get carried away by attempting to give some tragic backstory as to why she rejects men her own age and instead explores her fixation with this boy.

 

11. Notes On A Scandal (2006)

Notes On A Scandal (2006)

Told from an outside perspective, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a lonely history teacher who is close to retirement. However, she soon befriends the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), who becomes the main character in her daily diaries and her most recent obsession. She idealises Sheba and does her best to impress her, without being too obvious about it.

Late one night at the school Christmas show, Barbara witnesses Sheba having sex with a student through a window. After confronting her, Sheba confesses that she has been having an affair with the 15-year-old student Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson) and tries to justify that it started it innocently enough – art private lessons since he had learning difficulties and couldn’t attend her normal class lessons. She enjoyed his comments but did her best not to lead him on, until she didn’t.

Sheba promises to break it off and understands that Barbara must tell the school, yet Barbara says she won’t say anything as long as it won’t happen again. Unaware of the leverage Barbara now has against her, Sheba makes the mistake of taking her for granted and leaving the woman who could ruin her life alone at times when she needed her the most.

 

10. Unfaithful (2002)

Unfaithful (2002)

Adrian Lyne’s (Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s ladder) erotic thriller tells the story of a normal middle-aged couple – Connie (Diane Lane) and Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) who along with their 8-year-old son (Eric Per Sullivan) live a happy and stable life.

That is, until Connie runs into (literally) a young French stranger (Oliver Martinez) who introduces himself as Paul and offers her shelter from the windstorm and treats her scraped knees in his close by apartment. Shortly after, she returns to his apartment again and again for a different kind of treatment. They start an affair once she can no longer ignore his sexual advances and gives into his seduction.

The technicalities of the actors’ real ages contradict the supposed age gap between Connie and Paul, since Diane Lane is only one year older than Olivier Martinez. However, she portrays a middle aged woman, despite only being 37 at the time of production, while he passes off as ten years younger than he actually is – resulting in an assumed age gap of around 15 years.

Ironically Lane’s onscreen husband Richard Gere is 16 years older than she is, probably contributing to the illusion that she is older than she actually is.

 

9. Rushmore (1998)

RUSHMORE, Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, 1998, (c)Buena Vista Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Wes Anderson’s and co-writer Owen Wilson’s follow-up feature to “Bottle Rocket” and next highly stylized independent comedy (and first commercial success) “Rushmore” introduces Jason Schwartzman in his debut role as the overambitious, unpopular and eccentric 15-year-old Max Fischer.

A proud student at Rushmore Academy, where despite being incredibly involved in extracurricular activities, is flunking out. His unrelenting love for a widowed elementary school teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) makes the audience loyal and sympathetic to him, despite his antagonism at times.

His fixation begins when he sees her handwritten note in a library book. He tracks her down, intentionally strikes up a conversation with her, and they soon become friends. When Ms. Cross realizes he may have feelings for her, she clarifies that he is too young for her and that they will never have a romantic relationship. Max shrugs this off, but still continuously attempts to impress her.

Max’s other friend, Blume (Bill Murray), a rich and frustrated industrialist, tries to convince him that his obsession with her is pointless and that she isn’t worth all this trouble. However, he too begins to develop a crush on her. Ms. Cross reciprocates his feelings, but is guilt ridden since he is married with children. This results in an unconventional love triangle that Max has forced himself into.

 

 

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  • It’s interesting that most of these films are about women that are in dark places in their lives and the subsequent affairs they initiate with younger men only serve to illicit more emotional damage. Women can’t simply own their sexuality on film.

    • Fher

      And it’s everything to do with the fact that this films are made from a male point of view. This female characters are there to tell a man’s storie

      • RockyJohan

        or maybe being in dark places in their life makes a more interesting story than a woman who has no problems at all and a great sex-life with a younger lover.

        • I appreciate that conflict is necessary to a narrative’s construct and that most of the films on this list are valid. I’m speaking specifically to the fact that women who take younger lovers in film are generally characterized as broken whereas the reverse (that is older men and younger women) have much more positive representations.

          Was Y Tu Mama Tambien any less interesting or complex for portraying a woman in ownership of her sexuality or was it better for having explored it? That movie should be on this list.

  • marcel
  • Bryton Cherrier

    I guess I suffer from a Mrs. Robinson Complex.
    Well, the fantasy of it anyways. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  • ReginaRussell

    The Summer of ’42!

  • Klaus Dannick

    Blue Velvet

  • RockyJohan

    All Things Fair by Bo Widerberg should be on this list

  • HLLH

    Fun fact: Manoel de Oliveira was the only filmmaker whose active career spanned from the silent era to the digital age.

  • Blue Velvet!

  • Ted Wolf

    how can the Graduate rank 3rd on a list named for it’s key plot point?

  • Ahmed

    Summer of ’42