Sunday, July 15, 2012

Withnail and I (1987) **

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Strange British humor is the best way I can describe Withnail and I (1987).  At times it is irreverently funny, and then there are moments when it just seems inane.  I’m usually a big fan of black comedy, so I was a bit disappointed by this effort by writer/director Bruce Robinson.  The film was semi-autobiographical for Robinson, as it was based on his life during the late-1960s in London, so perhaps more distance from the subject matter would have served him well here.

Withnail2009_468x320The film takes place in 1969 Camden Town. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) are out of work actors living in a squalid, dilapidated flat. Something seems amiss with this living situation as it soon becomes abundantly clear that these are two university educated young men.  Withnail’s vocabulary and overall bearing betray him as upper middle-class, and Marwood’s idiosyncratic tendencies make it clear that these two really don’t belong in a building that should be condemned.  Yet, once you know that Withnail is a drunk and Marwood is a paranoid freak you are more accepting of their living accommodations.

The story doesn’t really take off until the guys decide they need a change of scenery and ask Withnail’s Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) to let them stay at his country home.  Monty is a stereotypical eccentric gay man who quotes Baudelaire and fawningly reminisces about former paramours.  He’s the best thing about withnail-rex-credi_1707968ithe entire film.  Everything he says and does is funny, especially since there always seems to be some sexual undertone to whatever he says.  For example, in discussing why he prefers carrots to geraniums he says: “I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is, you'll agree, a certain 'je ne sais quoi' oh so very special about a firm, young carrot.”  His pursuit of a very uninterested Marwood is hilarious—and even a tad sad, too.

As for the two leads, Grant and McGann, they do admirable jobs portraying rather unlikable characters. I think Grant deserves more credit for his performance because he is actually allergic to alcohol, so the idea that he played a complete drunk so convincingly should be Withnail-and-I-4acknowledged.  Still, I found nothing whatsoever redemptive about his character, so it made it difficult for me to care what happened to him.  As for McGann, his overly-neurotic character was annoyingly boring. 

I suppose you could call this a coming-of-age story, but it still seems like a film without a plot.  I suspect this is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of this movie.  Had there been more story development and less focus on ingesting drugs and alcohol this might have captured my attention more.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting that your review doesn't jive with the ones that praise this film. Might check it out as I'm a fan of British cinema but I don't think my expectations will be as high. Great review!

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    1. Some people really like this, but I'm not a big fan. It's not a horrible film, but I didn't find it all that funny.

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  3. i liked this one more than you did. I viewed it as more or less a farce and didn't bother taking it seriously. Withnail is a case of extreme arrested development and entitlement, and that's really it.

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    1. I didn't hate it, of course, but it wasn't a favorite. I agree that it comes off as a farce--I think they could have done it better, though.

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    2. A more recognizable plot would be a good start.

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