Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Huh, sounds like a dare. When this film first came to theaters, it was accompanied by the MPAA tag: “No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied by his parent.” That make is a double-dog dare, but really, it’s triple and for the big kids only.
Late one evening on a New England campus, middle aged professor George (Richard Burton) and his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) invite a young couple over for drinks. As the booze flows, the conversations turn to ugly, dark secrets within each couples lives, like a booze ridden Mad Hatter’s tea party. Basically, George and Martha use their guests as fuel and audience to rip apart their dirty secrets that only bring pain.
Now, George and Martha aren’t your typical couple who lob a few softballs when dinner’s a little overdone or pick and bitter just for entertainment. Their language is course, ruthless, and brutal. Every other sentence between them can arguably be emotional abuse. With George’s professor intellect eloquently flowing out of his mouth, his verbals slaps to Martha are engaging and often poetic. Martha is more gruff and straightforward, as she describes herself, “I’m loud and I’m vulgar, and I wear the pants in the house because somebody’s got to.” There’s more on Martha’s agenda tonight than a fight, after all, it seems she invited the couple.
Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis) are the young, unsuspecting couple. Nick is a handsome, well built and smart man, while Honey is, well, are you familiar with the term butterface? Actually, it’s not just her face, it’s everything. She’s sickly skinny, talks like she didn’t pass the third grade and her eyes carry all the inner beauty of a rodent. And when she’s drunk, she’s sloshed and vomits often. Those beady eyes can hardly stay open. She made me think a twelve year old walked onto the set and got into the brandy. So yeah, I think Dennis deserved the best supporting actress win, especially with the lines like,”No, if I can’t do my interpretive dance I don’t want to dance at all, I’ll just sit here.” And my personal favorite: “Hump the hostess!”
It seems George becomes master of ceremonies and uses the other three like puppets. When Nick and Honey want to leave, he banters and says the night has just begun. He shares stories with Nick and Nick shares in return, only for those private moments to be used against him later. “And that’s how you play get the guests,” George explains. In the final act, George’s last little game, oh, what a riveting climax, I cannot even allude to it. I will say that I found myself standing in front of my television, hands over my mouth unable to pull away as my mind made the necessary connections that I could hardly believe. I don’t even remember the last time a movie made me do that, it was amazing.
Of course, I’m odd like that. Now, who would enjoy this movie as much as I did? I don’t know, I think it takes some real love for dialogue, mental stamina, and a very open mind. If you get some laughs out of this film, they’re probably not good natured, unless you find the term “monkey boobs” hilarious. Some people won’t know how to handle the mental anguish you witness in the film. The bottom line is these people are messed up and you’re going to find out more than you really want to about them, and oh, that last scene is a shocker. The real question is not Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but Who Can Handle Virginia Woolf?