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Comedies about Eccentrics

August 17, 2009

by John Farr

Feeling like an oddball? John Farr suggests you watch these comedies.


Harold and Maude (1972)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

A comedy about the unlikeliest of May-December romances: Harold (Bud Cort) is a bright, eccentric nineteen year old fixated on death, Maude a 79 year old free spirit whose singular obsession remains the wonder of life and living. This movie traces how these two unlikely characters connect and form a loving relationship.

WHY I LOVE IT:

A warm and quirky comic gem that’s built a sizable cult following over the years. Director Hal Ashby’s second feature boasts inspired casting, with veteran stage actress Ruth Gordon irresistible as Maude and Bud Cort so ideal for Harold that the young actor was forever typecast as a weirdo, as mentor Robert Altman had sagely predicted. Fabulous soundtrack from Cat Stevens.


Being There (1979)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Sellers’s second-to-last film proved to himself and the world that when called upon, he could be a superb serious actor. Ingenious tale written by Jerzy Kozinski tells of Chance, a child-like gardener in Washington, D.C., whose only education has come through television. Through a twist of fate, after his old employer dies, Chance (re-dubbed Chauncey Gardner) ends up in the home of powerful wheeler-dealer Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his lonely younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Rand sees the stuff of genius in Chauncey’s simple pronouncements, and soon the humble gardener has the ear of some even more powerful people.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Top “70′s director Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kozinski’s original black comedy is a triumph, due to Sellers’s bravura lead performance and terrific turns from supporting players Douglas (who netted an Oscar), MacLaine, and the gravelly Jack Warden as the President. Smart, funny and thought-provoking, the film’s enduring poignancy comes from the fact that Sellers had only one year to live when he made the film. If you love Peter Sellers, you’ll love “Being There”.


As Good As It Gets (1996)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Melvin Udall ( Nicholson) is an obsessive-compulsive neurotic with no friends, who ironically makes his living as a successful romance novelist. Melvin is forced to come out of his shell when gay neighbor Simon is injured and Melvin must care for his dog. Then there is Melvin’s growing attachment to the waitress who works at the diner he frequents. Carol (Helen Hunt) can handle Melvin (a major achievement), but she has a lot more on her plate, including carrying for an asthmatic son. Is this a scenario where love could blossom? You’d be surprised.

WHY I LOVE IT:

James L. Brooks’s quirky, touching film brims with humanity, as three societal misfits find each other and against steep odds, ultimately connect. Nicholson fits oddball Melvin like a defective glove, but it’s Oscar winner Helen Hunt who steals the film as the beleaguered, world-weary Carol. An unlikely romance with a big heart, this gem truly lives up to its title.


The Big Lebowski (1998)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Super laid-back ’60s dropout Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski enjoys hanging loose and getting high with his two bowling pals, cranky Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and easygoing ex-surfer Donny (Steve Buscemi). But his groovy-loser L.A. lifestyle is about to undergo a massive makeover when some thugs looking for a millionaire named “Jeff Lebowski” bust into his Venice bungalow and drag him into a tangled kidnapping scheme.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Ace filmmaking team Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”) took more than a few pages from Raymond Chandler’s seedy L.A. noir novels to create this absurdly comic caper masterpiece. Bridges is riotous as the unflappable aging hippie who finds himself embroiled in double and triple extortion plots-think Phillip Marlowe on a bag of weed-while superb sidekicks Goodman and Buscemi get to sling around a lot of ripe witticisms. Also great is John Turturro, playing a vulgar-mouthed champion bowler named Jesus, and Julianne Moore, fetching as an “erotic artist.” In typical Coen fashion, the camerawork is wildly offbeat, the dialogue sharp, and the performances goofy and intriguing. Don’t miss this kooky homage to the weird world of noir.


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