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Review: ‘Becoming Mike Nichols’ charts director’s creative arc

“One minute, you don’t know. The next minute, you suddenly get it … there’s nothing like getting it.” That, in a nutshell, is the creative process as described by the late director Mike Nichols. Whether on a Broadway stage, in a movie or on TV, Nichols delivered smart entertainments that “got it” more often than not.

In the new documentary “Becoming Mike Nichols,” the Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner discusses key moments from his early career with his close friend, fellow theater director Jack O’Brien, recorded not long before Nichols died in 2014.

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The real value of the documentary from Douglas McGrath lies in charting Nichols’ creative trajectory from the staging and improvisation lessons learned with comedy partner Elaine May, through collaborations with playwright Neil Simon on “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple,” and the director’s first two feature films, both legendary — “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Graduate.”

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There’s overlap with the recent episode of PBS’ American Masters directed by May, but the McGrath film is more focused. By concentrating on the early projects, we get a richer sense of the development of Nichols the artist in his own words and illustrated with photos and extended clips of performances.

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‘Becoming Mike Nichols’

No rating

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Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on HBO beginning Monday


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