Monday, July 16, 2007

Get Stuffed Grandad!

Withnail and I
Written and directed by Bruce Robinson

The year is 1969. A pair of broke actors, driven to despair by the miserable, impoverished lifestyle they are living in Camden Town, take a trip to the English countryside. Pratfalls ensue. One of our protagonists (the 'I' of the title) is a sensitive, thoughtful sort, while his companion (Withnail) is a hateful, manic sociopath. The setup sounds a lot like that of a stupid comedy starring a pair of B grade Jim Carrey wannabes, with the city boys making fools of themselves out in the farmland and learning a few valuable lessons along the way. Fortunately this movie is nothing of the sort. It's an independent British film over twenty years old with a way offbeat style and a dedicated cult following.

It's no surprise that this film never found a mainstream audience. The characters and situations, while they are particular to the time and place of the setting, are counter culture archetypes and the movie probably makes little sense without having known a few people who fit the parts. Withnail is a narcissistic nihilist, dancing perpetually on the edge of a drug induced early grave and is propelled through his squalid, haphazard life by nothing except sheer spite and the fear of ever sobering up enough to have to face himself in the mirror. The one area in which I thought the movie failed in was portraying the ways in which people like Withnail, through a bizarre sort of anti charisma, are so much fun to hang around and party with, I think it's a bit of a misstep that for the most part he is simply portrayed as a particularly imaginative jerk. Our narrator is an intelligent, gentle enough guy but while he's too smart to jump onto the endless treadmill of the rat race he hasn't the strength of personality to forge his own path and instead just gets tugged along in the current of Withnail's booze fuelled shenanigans.

Withnail and I has a reputation as a funny movie so it countered my expectations when it turned out to have very few genuine comedy moments and mostly took itself pretty seriously. However while you may not laugh out loud a lot there's still a lot of humour to be found, it's just subtle and quirky. Especially by today's standards.

I can't say I really liked the ending but it is at least an original take on the Sixties and pretty succinctly nails the reality of hedonism, not at all burdened with the rose coloured glasses through which most counter culture media views the bohemian (especially the Sixties counter culture) lifestyle.


Joel said...

Added to my "to watch" list - sounds like the kind of movie I might enjoy.

(BTW, your blog is telling me that your latest comments addon is broken and needs to be updated...)

Jon said...

Yeah, I think you'd like it.

Thanks for the heads up. Now fixing stupid widget...