Movie Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

I have never been much of a fan of plays turned into feature films. Very rarely do they work, in my eyes, but Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an exception. I was hooked from the first few minutes of dialogue, until the last intriguing scene.

The first forty minutes of this film are what I consider to be some of the funniest dialogue ever spoken in a movie. The rest of the film, although much darker, is ingeniously written.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (who were married in real life at the time) play a warring married couple who tear into each others faults with relentless barrages of language and insults. Burton is an aging professor, who has failed at almost everything he has set out to do in life. Taylor is the daughter of the president of the college he teaches at.

Then one night, after they arrive at their home on campus from a party, they invite a younger couple over for drinks to get to know them, since the husband is also a professor at that same college. Little by little, Burton and Taylor drag the couple into their wicked games of anger and frustration leading to an excellent (and confusing) final scene that will leave the audience guessing.

There is incredible acting all around, as each of the four principal characters were each nominated for Academy Awards. Taylor won for best actress along with Sandy Dennis for best supporting actress. Burton and George Segal would be nominated for best actor and supporting actor, respectively. The film would be nominated for a total of thirteen Oscars, taking home five.

Most film critics consider Burton and Taylor to give the best performances of their career in this movie; I concur.

For fans of the author Virginia Woolf, which the title is named after, there is no reference to her at all, and the title of the film is irrelevant to the movie. In a drunken stammer, the characters change the words around from the song “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?” to “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

This is a film that I would probably have to view one more time to make the most out of it. Save for a few slow scenes, such as the moonlit walk at the beginning, and another towards the end, this movie is fast-paced with its scenes, and director Mike Nichols clearly got the most out of his actors.

For trivia hounds, this was also the first film to be attached with the warning, “No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by a parent”, although it was not rated-R. This is due to the language and heavy drinking, something that was never before seen in a movie to that extent.

My final review of this movie will be an 8 out of 10. The first forty minutes or so had me laughing hysterically at the husband and wife’s constant quarreling. But they it go even more interesting as the tone of the film got so much darker. I highly recommend this to those who are studying film.

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