Being There

Reviewed By Godfather
Posted 02/26/00 16:46:16

"'I like to watch, Eve.' If you're smart, so will you."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! This movie requires you to not only think but to suspend your disbelief. In other words, being smart is not going to do it unless you have an imagination as well. "But Godfather" I hear you say "don't I always have to suspend disbelief when watching a movie"? Yes. But most films are either so true to life, or so outrageously not true to life, that the suspension is natural. Satirical farce is different. Satire asks you to believe what you are seeing is perfectly normal in that what is happening is not in any way, shape, or form normal. And no film does this better than "Being there". Are you up to the challenge? Let's see.

Chance (Peter Sellers) is a dim witted gardener who has lived his entire adult life under the secluded protection of a rich man. He has never ventured beyond the walls of his protector's garden, never ridden in an automobile, and has acquired all his knowledge of the outside world through the slanted version of television. When his benefactor dies Chance (pronounced Chon-see) uncomprehendingly is thrusted in to the outside world for the first time in his fifty odd years of life. When he is struck by a car owned by the extremely wealthy Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his wife Eve (Shirley Maclean) the mildly injured Chance is invited to the mansion for recuperation.

And this is where the comedic genius begins. Chance's confusion is interpreted as wit. His use of describing everything in terms of gardening (the only thing he really knows about) is seen as metaphorical simplification designed to more aptly convey his opinions on extremely complex monetary issues. And his inability to use guile to disguise his true feelings is seen as refreshing frankness. All these factors endear him to Ben (an elderly man who is dying of an incurable disease) and Eve his much younger but loving wife. Chance's star begins to rise when Ben arranges a meeting with himself, Chance and the President of the United States (Jack Warden). The President finds Chance's "views" refreshing and after he quotes Chance in one of his televised speeches Chance becomes a national figure without a past. The events that follow are absolutely outrageous and yet, with the important exception of Ben's friend and attending physician Dr Robert Allenby (Richard Dysart), completely believable to the very intelligent people who become Chance's new family. And more importantly, to us as well.

If you get the feeling that if the word intelligent was removed from the English language this review would be only six words long you may move to head of the class. Satire, done well, is intelligent. To understand it and appreciate it, you have to be intelligent as well. "Being there" is satire done exceptionally well. I'll let you draw the final conclusion. If you got this far in the review you're probably qualified.

And that is what makes "Being there" such an exceptional satire. It is easy to make a film where the characters are so stupid that everything the protagonist does is believed by them. For a comedy that can work. For satire it is a death knell. Satire is to comedy what wit is to humour, smarter and with a bite. At no point during "Being There" can you say that something happens that is not possible for an intelligent person to believe or deduce. Every time you think that the movie has gone to far the characters come up with a plausible explanation as to why it hasn't. Superb acting and superb dialogue…what was Hollywood thinking?

For Hollywood BitchSlap, I'm the Godfather.

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