Thursday, December 22, 2005

Day 83: Being There

Ah, Hal Ashby. Somehow you found the soul of disaffected American romances with Harold and Maude, pushing the lovers united against the world, Bonnie and Clyde-esque, "even if no one in the world agrees with us, we'll love each other no matter what!" genre into a corner, prodded it, and came out with one of the most loveably sweet, endearing movies of all time. And here's another sweet, endearing, and poignant film about an unlikely hero who's got everything to lose, but pushes on and finds happiness. God damn you, Hal Ashby, for getting it so right... for including in your film, the fact that Chance, the gardner, could not have done all he does here if he were black... for complicating the myth of the sweet retard who makes everyone else's life better with his unassuming. selfless ways by insinuating that he's Jesus!

Hal Ashby... if I could reanimate you, I would: to pat you on the back for knowing how not to tip your hand while doing an entire movie in deadpan. For understanding that Television is not the problem, so much as the fact that we're all as dumb as the shows on TV and so self-aggrandizing, we think our lives are worth being on TV. For being prescient enough to know that all a man has to do to be elected president, is get his face on TV, spout a few simplistic, yet smart-sounding analogies, refuse to talk about his past (or better still, insist that he has none), and have the right corporate connections. For giving Peter Sellers this role near the end of his life, the character somehow a fitting tribute to how he made us all feel.

Being There is a beautiful, sad little film with much wit. The premise is labored from the get-go (dumb guy wanders around, affects people with homespun gardening parables or a lifetime of television-inspired platitudes) and yet, the acting is too good, the writing too funny, and the way it's all captured too assured to do anything but fall for the damn thing. Though there were times that I thought the territory the movie was steering me into might get far too schmaltzy and Gumpish, it never, ever went there and every emotional beat was fairly earned. Good show, this one. I like to watch it.


Ted said...

Yes. Yes!

I read Jerzy Kosinski's novel, and it, too, was sweet and original and what Gump coulda/shoulda been.

...and I remember thinking at the time that they could never make a movie of this.

And, frankly, sans Ashby (and, to a (slightly) lesser extent, Sellers), this movie could not have worked.

DB said...

This film was a bit of a swan song for Ashby as well as for Sellers. After "Being There", the rest of Ashby's career was marked by studio interference, aborted and recut projects, and lame studio films. If you haven't seen Ashby's "The Last Detail" yet, you should ASAP.

Matt said...

I agree about "The Last Detail". Its my favorite Hal Ashby movie and one of my top-3 favorite Jack Nicholson performances, which is saying a lot.

zora said...

this is probably one of my major prejudices, but i think that being there and forrest gump will divide people into two groups: those who will not be able to enjoy forrest gump because they can appreciate how much better the holy fool topic works in being there - and those who need things to be plainly hammered home, so they enjoy forrest gump more than being there simply because they understand it better. is that a harsh thing to declare? said...

I, too, for all the reasons stated, think "Being There," is a great film, but the comparisons to Gump are off the mark. If anything, their characters are opposites. Gump looks and sounds to be a fool, but he accomplishes everything he sets his mind to, football hero, war hero, ping pong champ, shrimp boat captain, etc. Chance, on the other hand, accomplishes nothing on his own, except through the true joke of the film: Chance. He is elevated through the misunderstanding of what he says and who he is, by others. Still, it remains Sellers' and Ashby's triumph, not only because of Ashby's directing and Sellers' performance, but because of Sellers' influence and determination to get the film made in the first place.