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You're a Big Boy Now

Posted on the 29 January 2016 by Christopher Saunders
You're a Big Boy NowFrancis Ford Coppola's second feature, You're a Big Boy Now (1966) earned him his Masters from UCLA, and a mainstream career after apprenticing with Roger Corman. An eccentric youth comedy, it shows the exuberant excess expected of a 27 year old director.
Mild-mannered Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner) lives with his stern father (Rip Torn) and oppressive mother (Geraldine Page), working in the New York Public Library. Determined to prove himself an adult, Bernard moves into his own apartment. He carries on a chaste flirtation with coworker Amy Partlett (Karen Black) but grows attracted to dancer Barbara Darling (Elizabeth Hartman). Bernard's parents disapprove of his sexual awakening, forcing him to stand on his own.
Based on David Benedictus's novel, You're a Big Boy Now seems an American take on Mod British comedies like Billy Liar and The Knack. New York is a swirling revel of nightclubs, peepshows, and Broadway theaters. Coppola's direction proves giddily excessive, from long tracking shots of Times Square to his climactic dash through shopping malls and street parades. He steals a page from the Brit films with outlandish fantasies: Bernard kissing Amy as billboards flash Barbara's names; Barbara's fight with a one-legged therapist; a black Scottish bagpiper.
Coppola emphasizes the Generation Gap between Bernard's stuff-suit parents, obsessed with Gutenberg Bibles and proper etiquette, and swinging New York, full of eccentrics of all stripes. There's Barbara, who seduces men without bedding them; her midget confidante (Michel Dunn); a landlady named Miss Thing (Julie Harris) with a misogynist pet rooster. Bernard struggles to forge his own identity, feuding with his parents over contact lenses, girlfriends and his dog's name. As in The Graduate a year later, the adults are ridiculous stuffed shirts, the kids confused but cool.
Peter Kastner, star of the Canadian cult favorite Nobody Waved Good Bye, has Tom Courtenay's coarse intensity with a snide, unguarded playfulness layered in. Elizabeth Hartman's (The Beguiled) offbeat sexiness makes a nice counterpoint; Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces) is an appealing girl next door. Rip Torn and Geraldine Page are weak points; pinched and shrill, respectively, they're too broad to be amusing. Julie Harris is equally weird, as a prudish landlady with an unexpected soft side: she winds up with Dolph Sweet's boorish cop.
Elements of You're a Big Boy Now haven't aged well: the humor is flip rather than funny, the supporting characters are crude, its message glib: everything will be all right if you just get laid. Nonetheless, the movie's infectious energy makes it a worthwhile, if unusual experience.

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