14. The Apartment

13 Sep


directed by Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder’s 1960 Best Picture winner succeeds as a comedy (and as a romance) because of its willingness to grapple with things that are brutally sad. Jack Lemmon stars as Baxter, a lonely corporate cog who lends his apartment out to his superiors so they have somewhere to bone their mistresses. In exchange, Baxter gets lined up for a promotion and a badly needed raise. So already, we’re watching a romantic comedy that has the prevalence and banality of marital infidelity, plus the difficulty of getting ahead at work and making ends meet as a non-rich person, baked into its premise. Consider how much romantic comedies in the ensuing decades have drifted into the world of fantasy, where nearly every protagonist has a glamorous job and a colossal apartment, and getting a ring on one’s finger basically signals sunshine and lollipops and no-problems-anymore-forever. (The deeper into adulthood I get, the more the film’s frank discussion of money in particular stands out to me. When was the last time you saw a romantic comedy where the main character said exactly how much money they made and how much they paid in rent, as Baxter does here?)
And this is all before we meet Shirley MacLaine’s Fran, the elevator girl who’s sleeping with Baxter’s boss and tries to commit suicide in the titular apartment. Later, she and Baxter bond over the fact that he once attempted suicide as well. But here’s the best thing about The Apartment: even though it’s full of suicide and affairs and quiet desperation, it’s stillreally funny. When Jack Lemmon delivers that monologue about trying and failing to shoot himself in the head, with his trademark insinuating grin in place the whole time, it’s hilarious. Every joke and every sweet moment of connection between Baxter and Fran works because they’ve truly been earned.

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